A hooptedoodle or three
By Thea Lenarduzzi
Following the death of Elmore Leonard, the internet has been awash with articles on “The prolific US crime writer . . . author of such books as Get Shorty, Maximum Bob and Out of Sight” , “Elmore Leonard, the legendary crime novelist and screenwriter, who wielded sharp prose and created quirky misfit characters”, “Elmore Leonard, the writer of gritty crime novels who was as prolific in his output as he was pithy in his widely celebrated prose” – and other pieces riffing on the sort of “prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword”, described by Leonard in an essay on writing, in the New York Times. (None that I have come across so far draws on the weather for atmosphere, though the Washington Post’s opening line, “Sad news this morning …”, might have raised a wry smile from the proponent of showing not telling.)
Leonard’s observance of rules 8, 9, and 10 in his New York Times piece about his methods for “remain[ing] invisible when I'm writing a book” (“Avoid detailed descriptions of characters”; “Don’t go into great detail describing places and things”; “Try to leave out the part that the readers tend to skip”) led to the pared-down style that set him apart – “Your prose makes Raymond Chandler look clumsy”, Martin Amis is reported to have said.
In Leonard’s prose, too, it was the dialogue that carried most weight and, fittingly for a writer whose aim was to be invisible in his work, an important contribution comes in the form of what others – critics and fans – have said about him.
There is more “hooptedoodle” – Leonard’s borrowing from Steinbeck to describe a writer’s “flights of fancy” – in some of these reviews than in others. (It was not until Unknown Man No 89, in 1977, that the TLS started reviewing Leonard’s work; by then he had written twelve novels, many of which had already been adapted and re-adapted for the big screen, as well as countless short stories. So there was some catching up to do.)
At the time of his death, Leonard was “very much into his 46th novel….working very hard”, so it may not be too long before more hooptedoodle comes our way. Until then, we offer this selection from our archive: