Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Elmore Leonard The Avatar of Cool

Book 11 of ’05: Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard.

Don’t make the mistake of dismissing Elmore Leonard. Eminently readable, Leonard is a master of the craft of writing.

Leonard’s characters are defined by their actions and their tastes in clothes, movies and music. Action not exposition drives his narrative, which is never slowed down by lush descriptions of sunsets. Leonard’s most elaborate descriptions are reserved for someone’s clothing—from the top: a tab collar or a dress shirt buttoned with no tie; to bottom: pale socks set against dark dress shoes.

There is a cinematic quality to Leonard’s writing, which explains why so many of his novels have been translated into film. In some writers (I’m thinking Michael Crichton), this method fails spectacularly; you have the inescapable feeling the author has gotten lazy and is combining the film script with the novel. Not Leonard, his pared down, rock-and-roll paced, cinematic style keeps us reading.

Each of Leonard’s novels—whatever the ultimate subject—is about “cool”; who’s cool, who isn’t, who wants to be and who never will be. Chili Palmer is cool. Leo the drycleaner never will be. Ray Bones thinks he’s cool, but Chili knows better and so do we.


Get Shorty is a masterful send-up of Hollywood and the way movies get, or don’t get, made. It’s appropriate, then, that the film version with John Travolta, Danny De Vito, Rene Russo and Gene Hackman is a delightfully entertaining film. Read the book and then watch the movie—that’s not a recommendation you will often receive.

While on the subject of books into movies, director Martin Scorsese’s film version of Edith Wharton’s novel, The Age of Innocence, also comes highly recommended. It stars the always watchable Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder and, in a piece of inspired casting, Michelle Pfeiffer as Countess Olenska.

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