I went into this short story collection completely cold. I knew nothing about Elmore Leonard except that he created the guy from Justified (a show I never watched). And he has been mentioned by Austin Kleon time and again. I’m not sure why I decided to pick up this book. I’ve been gaining a taste for Western fiction ever since I entered a classic movie kick a few years back (when I binged on Samurai flicks and the Man with No Name series). That led to reading things like True Grit and of course the delectable Walt Longmire series.
So I decided to give Leonard’s take on the wild west a try. Thank God I did. There are few writers as terse and eloquent as he. I’m not going to lie, there were plenty of places that felt dry. Or better put: so specific to early Western life that I had to invest some time in doing research. This was an era just after the Civil War, when Indians still had territories and trains were long groups of wagons. It took some getting used to. But once I adjusted my paradigm, it was gravy til the end.
What I love about Leonard’s prose is the lack of gloss. He speaks the plain truth, with no frills. I imagine he spent time cutting as much unnecessary text as a possible from his manuscripts, while still leaving something to read. By the end of his career I’m sure it was second nature to write in that style from the get go. As a writer who errs more on the side of verbose, this was as refreshing as a bucket of water to the face. Chilling, but eye-opening. And that’s not even getting to the amazing stories, with real but still heroic characters.
Do yourself a favor and read something by Elmore Leonard. Doesn’t even have to be a Western, he wrote across genre lines. His work has been adapt by Hollywood more times than Stephen King (arguable but it’s close). He’s a master story-teller. I’m excited I’m just getting started on his collection.
TL,DR: Go read this damn book.