Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Book Review: The Switch by Elmore Leonard


As many regular readers have come to notice, this blog has somewhat evolved into my self-education into the world of crime fiction. One of the giants of that field is Elmore Leonard. As weird as some of you may think this is, I have only started reading Leonard in the last decade. As such, I have nearly an entire oeuvre to read. And it’s an enticing thought.

Up until now, the bulk of my Leonard readings have been with the Webster family. I read Cuba Libre out of the blue soon after it first came out. Good story but I didn’t pursue any other books. I knew who Leonard was, of course. Get Shorty was a great movie as was Out of Sight. Didn’t like Jackie Brown when it came out because I wanted from Quentin Tarrentino Pulp Fiction 2. That was not what Jackie Brown was about.

Jump to earlier this year—when I have become more interested in Leonard’s works—and I learned that the author himself thinks Jackie Brown one of the best adaptations of one of his novels. Hmm, I thought, better give the movie another chance. I did, liked it much better this time around. And I also learned about the earlier novel The Switch which was an earlier adventure with Ordell and Louis. (BTW, I think Leonard’s penchant for going back and writing new adventures with old characters is quite cool.) It was easy to envision Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro, and Bridget Fonda in these earlier roles.

The Switch (1979) doesn’t suffer too much from its age. Sure, characters have to use pay phones with stacks of quarters for long-distance calls, but mainly, it could have taken place in 2008. As I have mentioned in other reviews, I couldn’t help but come to The Switch with some expectations and pre-conceived notions. The chief one was “Oh, this is an Elmore Leonard crime novel. Bet it’ll be funny.” Nope. Someone else will have to let me know when Leonard went from what I think of as straight crime novels to the funnier, hipper ones of his later career. The Switch was not one of those.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad. It was good, just not great. The book started off really slow and the reader didn’t help. In fact, the reader nearly made me not want to read the book at all. I found a paperback copy and picked it up just in case the reader was too insufferable. He was close.

By the end of the story (giving away nothing because, hey, the same folks show up in Rum Punch, the novel on which Jackie Brown was based) I liked how certain characters reacted to each other. And the ending was something foretold by the cover art on the audiobook. I’ll admit I liked the book, didn’t love it though. In fact, of the Leonard books I have read to date (Valdez is Coming, Hombre, Cuba Libre, The Hot Kid, Up in Honey’s Room), I like it the least. Of these, The Hot Kid and the two westerns are the best.

But the best thing about coming to an author who has written around forty books or so is that I have so many more to get to. I know Leonard’s next book will have come characters from earlier books so next up on my Leonard reading list will be those books. But I’ll be reading a few other things first.

Question #1 for anyone who knows: does Mickey show up in a later book?

Question #2 for anyone who knows: when did Elmore Leonard shift to the more comedic books he is now known for?

What I Learned As A Writer: I appreciate Leonard’s multiple POV structure. It really helps the reader along by giving us just the pieces we need to move the story forward. That structure also propels the reader to want to read more, always a good thing. But what I personally didn’t like was multiple-POV switches within the same scene. It’s a bit jarring. I prefer to stick with one POV in a scene, have a break, then you can switch. To me, it’s easier for the reader...and isn't that why we write books anyway?

2 comments:

eejut said...

I'm going from memory here, so it's probably wrong.

Jackie Brown is my favourate QT film, it's the one where i feel he lets characters do their own thing and have their own voices. I end up debating this endlessly at work, though, with people who hate the film.

Mickey, i'm sure, shows up in RUM PUNCH, in a very minor role.

Leonard's career has had several stages. I love his westerns, which evolved into the template of the drifter who comes to town and changes things. That then led into his early 'crime' novels such as THE BIG BOUNCE, that followed the same format in a new era. Then in the seventies his novels got darker and more gritty, and then in the mid-late 80's he evolved into the lighthearted guy of FREAKY DEAKY.

As i said, though, it's been a while. I could be talking out of my socks.

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