RARA-AVIS: the stuff people skip

From: DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net
Date: 13 Jan 2006

I recently read three books in succession that got me thinking about Elmore Leonard's famous dictum about cutting the stuff that people skip over. The books were Jean-Claude Izzo's Total Chaos, sandwiched in between Duane Swierczynski's The Wheelman and James Sallis's Drive.

The latter two largely follow Leonard's rule (in fact, Washington Post thriller critic, Patrick Anderson, brought up the rule in his vey positive review of Wheelman). They are both stripped down to the essentials, mostly action with little explicit description of weather and setting, psychological motivations, etc, beyond the specific turns made by the drivers.

Jean-Claude Izzo's Total Chaos is almost exactly opposite in its approach. In fact, the convoluted plot would probably have some holes in it if it were stripped of everything interwoven into it. I say probably because all of that other stuff kept me from breaking it down. All of that other stuff, the descriptions of weather and setting, psychological motivations, etc, is at least as much what this book is about as the plot. The many descriptions of Marseilles (the trilogy this begins is called the Marseilles trilogy), its inhabitants, its bars, its men and women, even cooking (this is a French novel, after all), are totally interwoven into the political and sociological themes of the book. It's as if Izzo's intent was to explore society through the individuals who inhabit it, and vice versa.

These are all great books that I recommend wholeheartedly. This kind of undercuts Leonard's rules, if not the whole idea that there can or should be rules for writing good crime fiction. Like many rules, they were probably formed in retrospect, divined from what worked for Leonard in the past. They can probably be a great help for a beginner, forcing him or her to focus on what is important.

However, after the fundamentals are in place, it all comes down to good wirting. And that good writing may or may not contine to fall within the accepted (not to say Leoanrd's rules are accepted) rules. In fact, although I am using Sallis here as an example of the stripped down approach, I could just as easily use his Lew Griffin novels as examples of the more meandering path here taken by Izzo.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 13 Jan 2006 EST