Re: RARA-AVIS: Someone who doesn't like Pelecanos

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 06 Jul 2004

--- "Kerry J. Schooley" <> wrote:
 An edge assumes the genre is evolving,
> the creative juices
> still flowing in response to the ideas, issues,
> themes implicit to the
> form. This would be to stay relevant with the times,
> though change can also
> lead to irrelevancy too, of course. Not to say that
> we can't enjoy some
> entertaining nostalgia, but if that is all that's on
> offer then I'd suggest
> the lack of an edge indicates a genre is, in fact,
> in decline.

The creative juices are 'flowing', I think, everytime somebody new publishes a book in the genre. If enough new voices are published and heard, and if enough of them are good, the genre's healthy.

True, I can think of hb books that I didn't like because they were overly nostalgic (Loren Estleman's Amos Walker series) or formulaic (Crais), but I can think of "engaged" or "relevant" books that I didn't like, too (Roger Simon's THE BIG FIX.) Ultimately it comes down to the merits of this or that book.

In short, to the extent I understand you I don't agree with you: the genre doesn't need an "edge", it only needs quality. True, as a genre evolves it has a weight of literary history behind it, and authors have to deal with that. In that sense, a genre "evolves" if by that you really mean "moves through history". But that doesn't have anything to do with the quality of this or that book. Just because I don't like the Amos Walker books, that doesn't mean I hate every self-conscious throwback.

> >I'm not sure what you're criticizing about the
> >discussions here: I've been on this list since the
> >late nineties and the quality of the discussions
> have
> >remained consistently high. Elucidate?
> I think so too, and maybe I'm being a bit
> oversensitive, but I'm wondering
> if the genre, and some of our discussions, haven't
> taken on a tone of moral
> certitude of late.

Again, I'm wary of these kind of generalizations (how can "the genre" have moral certitude?). As for us, well, these are all pretty well-read, intense fans and writers, you know. You're going to get strong opinions.

> But, broad as they were, hardly anyone responded
> directly to the
> criticisms: specifically that the genre is not
> advancing its creative
> language (as it did at first, with the hardboil
> vernacular) except Ellroy
> who may or may not be a singular, spent force,

You'd have to give me some idea of what you think constitutes positive advance in this area. I'm sympathetic to some extent to your point here, but it's hard to engage without some sense of what you think is worthy of note. Leave Ellroy out of it. O'Connell? Starr?

> that the genre is not
> contributing much to current public debate.

As I've said, I don't think this is an interesting virtue. Engaged literature dates badly, and is beside the point of why I read anyway. That's not to say an author with a definite political pov couldn't be effective: you couldn't finish a Michael Collins book without knowing where he stood on the spectrum of his day. But the point is that, at the end of the day, Collins's best books will last not because they're critical of capitalism, but because they're fine stories that reveal something of the human heart.

As I've gotten older I've gotten wary of literary theories, especially these kind of ur-theories. They tend to squeeze books into predetermined storylines, and at their worst they con authors into writing for the theory, instead of a reader.


===== Doug Bassett

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