Politics Magazine

Sunk in Elmore Leonard

Posted on the 25 October 2013 by Erictheblue


I found the obituaries and tributes that followed upon the recent death of Elmore Leonard, especially this one by Joan Acocella and this one by Anthony Lane, so interesting that I picked up at the library a paperback 52 Pickup.  I've now read Mr Majestyk and Stick, too.  Next up: LaBrava.  I read them in the order that I find them checked-in at the library.  If Leonard is a bad habit, like drinking booze, I'm in trouble, having dived into the bottle and pulled the cap down over my head.

But Leonard isn't a bad habit.  Put aside the garish, mass-market covers and the arguably lowbrow genre, "crime fiction."  Consider intead all the glittering moments unconnected to the shady dealings of the characters.  After all, you may find something of interest in Moby-Dick even if whaling tales aren't your normal fare.  Who is better than Leonard on the subject of the homes of the American rich?

Stick turned into the drive, 100 Bali Way, followed the blacktop through a patch of jungle and came in view of the house, white with a whiter roof; it reminded Stick of a mausoleum, neat and simple.  Barry said, "Around back."  They came to a turnaround area of cobblestones, four garage doors, a covered walk leading to the house and Stick couldn't believe the seze and sprawl of the place.  Like an assortment of low modules stuck together, open sides and walls of glass set at angles, the grounds dropping away from the house in gradual tiers, with wide steps that might front a museum leading down to the terraced patio and on to the swimming pool.  A sweep of manicured lawn extended to a boat dock and a southwest view of Biscayne Bay, downtown Miami standing in rows of highrises beyond. . . .


It seemed more like a museum than a place where people lived: all marble and glass or wide open, full of hanging plants and flower arrangements, potted palm trees.  Looking across some of the rooms or down a hall it was hard to tell what was outside and what was in. 

The living room was like an art gallery: two steps down to a gray marble floor and a sectional piece in the middle, pure white, where about a dozen people could sit among the pillows and look at the paintings and pieces of sculpture that didn't make any sense at all.  The room was pale gray and pink and white except for a black marble cocktail table.  There were white flowers on it--no ashtrays--and several copies of a magazine, fanned out, called Saavy.

Part of what I love about this is that it only pretends to be a just-the-facts description.  The details register and sum to a judgment.  Museum, mausoleum.  Speaking of Moby-Dick, the whiteness of the place is like that of the whale.  The fanned magazines were never meant to be read.  The art objects don't make any sense but an ashtray would.   The plot to this novel was kick-started when Stick, the protagonist, got dragged to the similarly gaudy residence of a criminal and, wandering around, was accosted by the tough-talking owner.  Who are ya?  An appraiser?  See anything ya like?  Stick lets his eyes drift around the place, then fixes them back on the owner and says, after a brief pause, "No, I guess I don't." 

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