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Get Shorty - Elmore Leonard
Member Name: samueltyler
Get Shorty - Elmore Leonard
Advantages: Chilli is one cool cat, interesting structure
Disadvantages: Narrative sucks, no other compelling characters
I have a problem with cool people who turn out not to be. For me someone is cool if they don't know that they are cool and don't try to be cool. Just be. However, it appears that many 'cool' people try their hardest to act nonchalant and laid back; if you have to think about it you have failed. People's desperate need to appear cool permeates all types of media too. A prime example is Quentin Tarantino who desperate need to be accepted through his films reeks like a barrelful of rotten cops' ears. One author who has achieved successfully the title of cool is Elmore Leonard. His books are so laid back that you have to shake them awake before reading them. However, with great coolness comes great responsibility. It is all well and good acting the sultan of suave, but can you be bothered to entertain the reader?
Chilli Palmer is a small time debt collector in Miami whose life is pretty much the day to day drudge of collecting cash. He's not a violent man by nature, but his charisma and opposing strength means people pay up without him lifting a finger. When one of his clients dies in a plane crash Chilli begins to suspect foul play as the dead man is spending in Vegas. With no reason to stay in Miami, Chilli sets off in pursuit of his prey and ends up in Hollywood in the house of a film director. With his unique skills of persuasion Chilli decides he could be the perfect Film Producer and with a man on the loose with $300,000 of untraceable cash, would that not be a perfect buy-in into the industry?
There is no denying the fact that 'Get Shorty' is a cool book. This is personified in the form of Chilli Palmer. A lesser author would create a shylock (Leonard's words, not mine) who was unsympathetic, brutish and unlikable. Chilli is none of these and in many ways is the direct opposite, when talking to his clients or trying to get something done Chilli is a great character. You have to appreciate his cool mannerisms and steady nature no matter what situation he is in. It is not like he is doing great things, but even the small nuances work. The rest of the cast cannot quite life up to Chilli and do feel a little bit stereotypical next to him. I also felt that perhaps Leonard had included a few too many characters as some had little to no impact on the story.
Another area of the book that I enjoyed was the structure of the story. This is a book about Chilli going to Hollywood and he ends up pitching a film about his life and the story that is currently unfolding. Although this sounds complex, Leonard treats it really well and it never becomes a problem. In fact, the slightly complex structure of the narrative actually leads to some of the best moments when Chilli has to explain what happens next in his pitched film, although in real life he does not know yet!
Although there are some good elements to the book the dreaded Leonard curse leers its ugly head once more. This curse is one of being too laid back. Leonard's writing is all about character and not about story. It is almost like he has no interest in capturing the reader's interest with a compelling narrative, but instead relies on his characters. This is a risky thing to do as 'Get Shorty' highlights. The moments that surround Chilli are great as you want to know the character and see what he does next. Unfortunately, you have no interest in any of the other people on offer at all. With a stronger story this may have been overlooked, instead you are left with at least one third of the book being a bit dull. Throw in an issue with the book feeling very dated (it's a 1990 release and feels every day of it) and you have a flawed piece of work.
I have read a few Leonard novels and they are all universally cool, but also have universal flaws, 'Get Shorty' is no different. Once more Leonards laid back style is too cold and feels a little lazy. He is too busy painting sexy characters to the detriment of the story. Nothing really happens in 'Get Shorty' and when it does you are not sure how it came about because the book just seems to stumble across situations. I would love for Leonard to incorporate a pace and exciting narrative to go alongside his excellent characters. As it is 'Get Shorty' is a nice character piece, but lacks the edgy storyline needed to promote it to excellent.
Author: Elmore Leonard
Price: amazon uk - £6.39
play.com - £5.99
Summary: A novel undone by its own cool