… In the Flow: On Charles J. Rzepka’s “Being Cool: The Work of Elmore Leonard” - Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
I just happened to come across what I said when I introduced Elmore Leonard at the Free Library some years ago. It is commendably brief:
Good writing is like a person’s signature: It doesn’t look like anybody else’s. No one would mistake Chekhov for Dostoyevsky or Graham Greene for Evelyn Waugh. Read any page of any good writer and, right away, you know where you are and who you’re with.
Case in point: “They put Foley and the Cuban together in the backseat of the van and took them from the Palm Beach County jail on Gun Club to Glades Correctional, the old redbrick prison at the south end of Lake Okeechobee.”
That sentence, which happens to be the first one in Road Dogs, will signal to any reader who’s been there before that he is once again entering Elmoreland, a region whose inhabitants speak a language not taught in the schools: American.
Once you find yourself in Elmoreland, you also find yourself hanging on those inhabitants’ every word. You just can’t help noticing that what they say and the way they say it is smooth and tangy, like good bourbon. These are people who say things like, “I’m an ordained minister of the Spiritualist Assembly of Waco, Texas, but I started out doing nails.”
When you come upon a sentence like that, you realize that when language is alive it packs a wallop. You don’t have to take my word for any of this. The man who discovered Elmoreland and who has been exploring its environs lo these many years is with us tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Elmore Leonard.