Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Brief Thoughts 7

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

When I took an online writing workshop from Jordan Krall, one of the things he said was that if you wanted to learn how to write dialogue, read Elmore Leonard. Get Shorty really drove that home.

I had read Glitz before, and while I did enjoy it, it didn't really "click" with me. It was one of those books that entertained me but didn't leave much of an impression. Get Shorty, on the other hand, was both entertaining and got me to look at how to write in a new way.

The story is about a loan shark named Chili Palmer who tracks a customer to Los Angeles to collect one more debt before he quits. While there, he falls in with a producer and an actress and decides to get into the movie business.

I've written things before that are intended to be read like watching a movie, but this is book showed me how it's really done. Leonard's dialogue flows naturally and the action is described simply without being dry. It's like a novel and a screenplay brought together seamlessly.

I can see what Krall was talking about. If I were a creative writing teacher, this is a book I'd use as a case study. Beats the fuck out of John Updike, that's for sure.

Buy Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard here. 

Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock 

Moorcock is an author I've been wanting to read for awhile, but had trouble getting into. Not only is he highly prolific, but a lot of his books are part of a convoluted "multiverse" series. Because of that, it took me some time to figure out where to start. This stand-alone novel seemed like the best place, as well as the collection The Best of  Michael Moorcock.

Karl Glogauer travels back from 1970 to the year 28 AD in Israel, where his time machine immediately breaks and injures him. He's rescued by John the Baptist and his followers who nurse him back to health. Because of his seemingly miraculous arrival, John is convinced that Karl is the messiah they've been waiting for.

Some reviews of this novel have complained that it telegraphs the surprise ending, which is obviously that Karl goes on to be crucified and essentially kick start Christianity. I don't think Moorcock intended this to be a surprise though. This novel doesn't treat it as a twist to my eye.

A few reviews also dismiss this as a juvenile attack on Christianity. It's easy to come to that conclusion, given that when Karl meets Jesus, he turns out to be a drooling, retarded hunchback. I don't think that's a fair characterization of this book though. The portrayal of Jesus is pretty harsh, but Moorcock's depiction of John the Baptist is practically reverent. It also makes a lot of sense from a narrative standpoint that Jesus would be a complete nobody incapable of doing anything in the story.

Moorcock takes for granted that the Jesus story was a myth and treats it as such through retelling. This isn't exactly unusual. Even stories written by Christians that retell the Jesus story take several liberties, such as The Master and Margarita and The Last Temptation of Christ. Ultimately, Behold the Man is a story about where the need for faith comes from. When you try to examine that from an objective standpoint, you're bound to offend someone.

Despite my defense here, I can't deny this a divisive read. Even over 40 years later. But I think that's what makes this worth reading. Christian, atheist or even anyone of any religion raised in the predominantly Christian West should read this. It will make you rethink the story of Christ and what it really means to you.

Buy Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock here.

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