Thursday, August 22, 2013
Elmore Leonard, R.I.P.
When I went to check my Elmore Leonard file the other day, I found far less in it than I thought there was. A 2009 Times review of his Road Dogs by Robert Pinsky, who called Leonard "a virtuoso storyteller." And there was a 2012 Times review of his novel Raylan (stories based on Raylan Givens, the character he created in "Fire in the Hole," the character now portrayed by Timothy Olyphant on Justified). The reviewer, Olen Steinhauer, noted that "our best crime writers are sometimes our most astute social novelists ...." You bet.
But where was the rest? As I've written here before, I'm an inveterate clipper of newspapers and magazines. Surely all these many years I've been reading Elmore Leonard I would have been clipping reviews and features about him? Guess not. I'm not sure why. Maybe I thought he would always be there, as if anything so good ever remains very long. I should have known.
I started reading him back in the seventies. Read one. Then had to read them all. (My pattern.) When I was serving my first stint at Western Reserve Academy (1979-1981) my department chair and friend, Tom Davis, was similarly hooked, and as the years rolled along, we would talk about Leonard (whom Tom for some reason insisted on calling luh-NAHRD), sharing the dirty jokes that Leonard virtually always included in his stories.
I once took some Harmon Middle School students to see him speak at a Books and Authors Luncheon in downtown Cleveland--an event I wrote a little about in this blog (here's a link to that post). It was there that I got Leonard to sign many of his books. I was nervous about taking a big stack of books to his table, so I divided titles among my students so I wouldn't look like such a stalkery jerk--which my students already knew I was. Am.
I just looked at some of those titles and remembered my error: I'd neglected to tell the kids to have him sign on the title page, so he signed several on the end-papers, diminishing the resale value. Not that I will ever sell Elmore. Sacrilege!
Eulogists all over the media the past few days have said about all there is to say about him. But I'll add one thing. His books always amused me because his Bad Guys always figured they had everything figured out. (just like the rest of us?), an error they realized at the end when a Good Guy's bullet was speeding toward their head/heart/both. Elmore, by the way, never too flashy, always used the word shot to describe a shooting--never anything more flashy like blasted. An Elmore-Moment from Killshot (1989):
He raised his hands to show her, Look, I'm unarmed, and stepped back saying, "Okay, take it easy, Miss," trying to think of a story to tell her ... And she shot him. Fired his own gun at him and it was like the sound of it punched him in the belly, make him grunt and double over. He put his hand on the table to straighten up, said, "Wait now," and she shot him again, socked him in the chest with it so hard he went back against the chair and sat down.
It goes on a little more--but you get the idea. The "He" had everything figured out; then he realized he didn't; then he got shot.
I rounded up all the Leonard books I could find in the house and stacked them on the dining room table. Quite a pile. I went through each one, looking to see how many were signed (just a half-dozen: my memory, like so much else about me these days, fails). But I also found a few more clippings, tucked away inside a few books.
One was a People magazine feature about him from March 4, 1985 (link). A 2000 Times review of his Pagan Babies. Two reviews from the Times (May 2005) of his book The Hot Kid (one in the daily paper, the other the cover story of the Book Review). But that's about it. As I said, I thought I'd had more--hoped I'd had more.
Oh, and I remembered ... when his novel Be Cool was coming out as a film in 2005, the students at Western Reserve Academy got a preview because one of the producers, David Nicksay, was a WRA grad. Nicksay signed my copy of the novel on Thursday, February 24, 2005, when he spoke to a school assembly, then, later that day showed the film, which, I fear, was not nearly so good as its prequel, Get Shorty.
I've liked several of the Elmore films, by the way--all the way back to Valdez Is Coming and 3:10 to Yuma and Hombre--all based on his early Westerns. Among the more recent ones (besides Get Shorty) I've liked Tarantino's Jackie Brown and Soderbergh's Out of Sight.
But the realization the past few days that there will be no more Elmore Leonard novels is a sad one. I spent so many hours in his company, got to meet him once, enjoyed the films so much (well, most of them).
And now, sadly, I have one final clipping to add to his folder--yesterday's page-one New York Times story about his death: "A Novelist Who Made Crime an Art and His Bad Guys 'Fun.'"