I’ve never read any Elmore Leonard before, and Elmore Leonard isn’t the kinda writer I read these days. In fact, Elmore Leonard has never been the kinda writer I’ve read, though maybe I’ll add this scarily prolific writer of [slightly] literary thrillers to the roster of people whose work I dig into from time to time, assured of a good time, knowing it won’t be a hard time…
Why did I have a copy of Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard in my book collection? It’s not the kinda thing – i.e. not achingly sad, published by a friendly indie nor the recipient of hipsterish acclaim – that I carry around.
Get Shorty is one of the many books that has accompanied me through homes and rooms in multiple cities and countries over the past half-decade. I bought it over five years ago as a book to read for a trendy East London book club1 that I was in for a little while, though as I didn’t get round to reading this at the time I never went to that meeting.
Get Shorty never appealed to me in the time since either until stressed, depressed and uncomfortable in the confusingly hot and humid Canadian Summer, I needed an easy and emotionless read. For these purposes, Get Shorty was fucking perfect.
I think there’s a film of it, but I haven’t seen it.
The novel is about a Miami loan shark who gets firmly but respectfully (ie non violently) kicked off his turf by someone who’s better connected to the Mob than he is, and then – chasing one last client who’s faked his own death and run off with the life insurance payout – winds his way across America to Los Angeles where, after doing a favour for a casino in Las Vegas, he meets a Hollywood producer and decides to get involved in the movies.
Chili – so nicknamed because he is ICE COLD – discovers that the skills that made him excel as a loan shark are the same that a movie producer requires. You’ve gotta be charming, you’ve gotta be cold, you’ve gotta persuade people to do things that transparently benefit you vastly more than them and – of course – you’ve gotta have your mind on your money and your money on your mind. Don’t be thinking about people: people are things to be squeezed for cash.
As inevitably happens in this kinda text, Chili’s past catches up with him once the replacement Miami loan shark finds out about that fraudulent life insurance payout, but alongside that Leonard includes another gangster – this time a Hollywood cocaine (and limo) magnate – who similarly wants to switch from crime to film production. Also there are agents, actors, writers, directors, whatever, and Leonard ties numerous, potentially messy strands into one thrilling literary thriller. This is a trash blog post about a trash book fyi. I’m not feeling my best atm.
The book is obviously literary, the plot is impressive and complex but intricately constructed. It reminded me a lot of The Goldfinch, though without the self-important page count. Similarly to that novel, Get Shorty is layered and evocative and exciting, as well as offering some satire of a prestige industry. Just like The Goldfinch, though, Get Shorty is also lacking a certain lo no sé that keeps the book from being literature rather than literary[ish] thriller. It also reminded me of Daniel James’ Ezra Maas, but this is better than that because it’s fingerlickingly unputdownable.
I think the difference between a literary thriller and literature is emotion: this is well written, yes, like those two other books, but it doesn’t do anything other than tell a narrative. Without such cracking plots, all three of the novels I’ve just mentioned would lack anything to connect with as a reader. Excitement is fun, excitement is great, but excitement isn’t at the heart of the greatest works of art of any medium. Excitement doesn’t make you weep: excitement is an artistic device to hold attention to the evocation of an emotional truth. That’s the difference between literary and literature. In my opinion. But what the fuck do I know, lol?
Get Shorty is a great thriller, a very very very good thriller, and next time I’m in the need for another cracking thriller, I know somewhere I can go. Nice.
Look, I went to Niagara Falls again:
1. Other alumni of that book club include Kit Caless (chronicler of carpets and publisher of Influx Press), Jane Frances Dunlop (international artist, director of the ‘Handsome Boy’ music video, reviewer of Bad Boy Poet and all round dream bae) as well as like proper grown ups with like real jobs or whatever. ↩
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