My friend said he was a chump.
How come, I said.
Say, I’ve never read any Elmore Leonard before, he said. Where should I start?
The answer on the tip of my tongue, -anywhere.
I’m feeling sad in this happy sort of way. Is it pride? Is it admiration? What’s sweetening the bitter, I can’t get a bead on it.
Elmore Leonard was the first author that hooked me. I was only 11 but I wasn’t really phased by the bullets and the bellicosity, the dirt and the deceit and all the throat-curdling grime –
The man was a poet and a local treasure. Leonard knew how to get in, situate the most stimulating, provocative and flamboyant characters, start them talking (and talking tersely,) and get out with a smooth reflexive roll of the chamber, er, typewriter.
The man knew how to write. That’s what he was here to do. And now, after 87 years and only 40-some-odd novels (not to mention scads of short stories and screenplays,) “…the Dickens of Detroit” is deceased.
And it still hurts me, 24-hours later.
I gave my friend a list that was only 9 books long. It was everything that came to mind in that moment. I told him to get back to me, that I’d have more to recommend when he was threw.
But if there’s anything else making me happy, I mean, besides the warm memories I have reading Leonard’s works (many of them fast-paced re-imaginings of hardboiled noir fiction and many of them set in Detroit), then it’s Josh…
Josh is another friend of mine. He has read Leonard. He’s also read Lovecraft and Shelley and Woolfe and James and Blackwood and Lord Dunsany.
Josh can carry a tune, he pens lyrics and he sings lead vocals in a local rock outfit called The High Strung. That’s him on the far right with the face paint.
But I believe Josh has a purer purpose while he’s on this planet. Like a stick to wound skin on a drumhead, or better, a bipedal, man-like typebar meant to swing forth and hammer out a communicative splay of letters onto the ribbons of everyday life, making it weirder, more mesmeric and altogether altered.
Josh Malerman is a writer.
He’s been writing all his life, but you don’t know him like you know Leonard. Sure, he spent a lot of the last decade pursuing other avenues. But the book he’s been working on, a supernatural suspense tale with a tinge of the dystopic and a maestro’s massaging of the paranoic, is set for publication.
He got that kind of big break, the stereotypical kind I ascribe to movie screenplays. And it makes me glad.
Today started with oatmeal and a bike ride and wound up with Malerman’s face all over the place…and so I’ve ended it pleased as punch.
Still, my heart aches over Elmore… It’s been a rough handful of years – particularly since it was only months ago that we lost Ray Bradbury. Before that, it was Vonnegut and Hunter Thompson. All of the great, iconic writers that inspired me to put pen to page (or nervy fingers to the laptop’s keyboard,) have passed-on…
But there is something to be said, that should be said, for contemporaries like Malerman.
A new generation of writers, Malerman among them are being printed, bound and displayed.
I can’t say enough for Elmore or Ray or Kurt or Brad… Adjectives fail me, histrionics threaten to fray my articulate functions.
But there is a world of fiction beyond… And we get to see (or follow) whatever kinds of winding paths it starts pointing towards, get to meet whatever kinds of people or creatures pop out from its curbs, with new tour guides, like Josh.
So, when you get a chance…return to some Elmore Leonard. Read Riding The Rap or Out of Sight or Swag or Maximum Bob.
Next, I’m (re)reading Bird Box.
“A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” -Carl Sagan