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Monday, March 13, 2017

LaBrava (1983) by Elmore Leonard


Book Review
LaBrava (1983)
 by Elmore Leonard

  Is Elmore Leonard genre fiction or literature: discuss.  On the one hand, Leonard was published in a manner consistent with the conventions of genre fiction: gaudy neon cover paperback books with his name splashed above the title, high budget Hollywood adaptations starring John Travolta.   On the other hand, he only died in 2013, and any author with a huge popular audience and debatable literary merit is going to have to wait until after death to obtain a fear hearing by critical audiences   Leonard is distinguishable from other genre writers in that he does possess a serious literary following, and that it is at least a 50/50 bet that anyone who considers the question closely is likly to agree, in 2017, that Elmore Leonard is the canonical writer of detective fiction in the US during the period when he was writing.

  If you are someone seriously considering Elmore Leonard as a canonical writer, it's worth taking a look at his work in the form of a Google timeline (if you search his name in Google and then arrange his works in chronological order, you will see what I'm talking about.)  He started out as a writer of Western Fiction- including the recently filmed version of 3:10 To Yuma.  

 Then he went into his first canonical period, when he was writing Detroit area Police procedural/Detective Fiction. This period is represented in the 1001 Books list by City Primeval (1980).  Leonard's fiction followed his own travels, and LaBrava represents the start of his second period- which is more thematically sophisticated.  Leonard never abandoned Detroit- you can consider the 1999 novel Out of Sight, which was made into a well received film by Steven Soderbergh.

  I would argue that Leonard's canonical status ultimately rests on his merit as a "Florida" author, and that Florida is a culture that deserves the most sophisticated level of literary treatment.  Elmore Leonard's Florida noir isn't quite that- he never was seriously considered for major literary prizes during his lifetime, which complicates any posthumous rehabilitation.  I mean, Leonard got a "career achievment" award from the National Book Award a year before he died.  

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