The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard

So people are finally starting to figure out that Elmore Leonard is a master of fiction writing, and especially pacing and dialogue. Why Leonard is still "under the radar" is beyond me, but it would appear with his recent film successes he is finally getting some notoriety.

The Hot Kid is an excellent novel where Leonard has left his somewhat traditional Detroit for the dusty Prohibition Era Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bank robbers, gun molls, and U. S. Marshals make up the cast of characters that come alive as part of the intricate world that Leonard has created. U. S. Marshal Carl Webster is the at the center of the action, making a name for himself as a marshall who always gets his man. As we see Carl develop as a man and marshall, we see the parallel life of Jack Beaumont, and his rise to a nationally infamous wanted criminal.

Leonard excels in crime writing, and obviously the western. One of my all time favorite western short stories is The Tonto Woman. Now he can add historical fiction to the numerous feathers in his cap. Leonard has a way with dialogue and characterization that makes the reader even like the "villains". He name drops and alludes to activities that are not elaborated upon in the novel, but it gives a depth to the narrative and allows Leonard to jump off at any point and stick a short story in here and there to develop his world even further out side the confines of the novel. I had read two short stories, Louly and Pretty Boy (Louly becomes Carl's wife), and Tenkiller (the story of Carl's grandson), are both excellent stories in their own right, and it is definitely something I have learned from Leonard. The story does not end on the page. If you know, REALLY know your characters (enough to write tons of material about them) then that will translate directly to the page.

An Ode to Suzanne Pleshette, Tippi Hedron, and Daphne du Maurier

When I heard that Suzanne Pleshette died January 19, 2008, and that she was getting a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, it really got me thinking about The Birds, and her character Annie Hayworth. Tippi Hedren and Pleshette really could make the most out of a pregnant pause. Words would just hang in the air, and Pleshette just oozed sexuality. What blonde bombshell Hedron lacked in acting ability, she made up for in pluck and style. These two ladies sizzled on the screen, and for a classic like The Birds from 1963 to still hold the attention of a “modern” film going man, is a real testament to the film, the actresses, and the period. Where has the sensuality and subtlety gone in modern film? Maybe we don't give smoking enough credit. It is hard to pause for dramatic effect if there is nothing to occupy the speaker, no smoke hanging in the air, or ice in the low balls... but I digress. Suzanne Pleshette, you embodied an era.

Also worth pointing out in the film is that Alfred Hitchcock is also breaking some molds of his own. He used an unknown model to star in the film, and many of the roles of women in the film are not stereotypical. Well, maybe stereotypical with a twist: Melanie Daniels, self-aware socialite; Annie Hayworth, independent school teacher. But remember, the most knowledgeable person in Bodega Bay? Why the scholarly professor, Mrs. Bundy. Possibly a scene that puts a fine point on how Hollywood is trying to grow, is where Hedron is running an outboard motor boat in a full length fur, skirt-suit, handbag, and heels—but she can drive a boat! Don’t get me wrong, Hitchcock did not shake the world with the roles of his female characters, but you could see Hollywood struggling to break free of the mold.

Maybe it is because the original author of The Birds, Daphne du Maurier, was a fem-fatale herself. She wrote this science fiction story in 1952, probably while smoking her cigarette at the typewriter. One reviewer wrote that her fiction could be classified as escapist. I think today it would be called Speculative Fiction. Not many female authors in the 1950s were considered "escapist" writers.

Time, Art & Criticism by Paul Trembling

I was linking the fabulous website East of the Web to my blog page, when I stumbled across the excellent sci-fi short story Time, Art & Criticism by Paul Trembling.

A would-be artist, Taran Vechery, has used the alien technology of time control to capture a tree and make it grow from acorn to death in one minute, it grows, and the seasons change-- everything--then the process begins over again. The most influential art critic in the world, Demidi De Soliel, has passed judgment that what Vechery has created is not even art. But just an engineers imitation of life, and poorly done at that. After several attempts with different and more sophisticated pieces, Vechery still cannot convince De Soliel at creates a final sculpture that contains... De Soliel himself.

This is an excellent story that at its heart tackles the question, "What is Art?" Is a piece of work called "art" because the person who created it says it is, or does it have to mean something to someone else, too? Well then, what makes it "good"? This is something that every person asks himself or herself at some point in his or her life. How do we know what is beautiful? If something helps us illuminate the human condition, or touches us personally in some way, it is something that affects us. Why?

I think that using the genre of science fiction is excellent choice as well, because this story is exactly what science fiction is about, social criticism. Here Trembling tackles several topics such as art, science (technophobes), racism (xenophobes) and crime. Is it a crime if the act of trapping De Soliel in a time warp is something for which there is no law? We have this scenario cropping up everyday, most recently internet stalking and bullying--"crimes" for which there are no laws. Youtube and Blogger have recently updated their terms of agreement to reflect certain attitudes and self censoring (Like against hate crimes and racist rants) that will probably become laws some day. Just because we may feel for Vechery and because De Soliel is the kind of person that needs to reap what he sows, does he deserve what happens to him?

This seems like a traditional Ray Bradbury story, and he does tend to get a twinkle in his eye when he talks about stories that involve the comeuppance of a character like this... I'm sure he would approve.

Oh, and the irony of writing a review about a story featuring criticism is not lost on me.