Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Get Shorty

Lots of reading, not a lot of posting. I’m blaming work and an unexpected stomach flu for this one, but I do have a few finished that are ready to be posted so this should be the start of an influx of posts…or so I hope.

With that in mind, Book 7 of Project 84 is:

Get Shorty

Get Shorty
by Elmore Leonard

I really, really wanted to like this book. I’d heard nothing but good things about Elmore Leonard novels, and have friends who swear by Get Shorty. Plus, Justified is one of my favorite TV shows, so I thought the original – which was listed in 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die – would be entertaining at the least.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of my favorites.

The story is…complex, but fast moving. I’m not even sure I can do it justice by summarizing, but I’ll give it a shot. Miami loan shark, Chili Palmer, follows a debt-jumper to Las Vegas in order to collect. While there, he gets tied up in a more interesting – and lucrative – collection arrangement, this time between the casino and B-movie producer, Harry Zimm. 

His connection with Harry goes from collecting to becoming involved with the production of Harry’s latest film. His involvement also stretches to Karen Flores, Harry’s on-again, off-again girlfriend and a B-movie starlet.
While developing Harry’s film, Chili starts putting forth an (almost inadvertent) movie pitch of his own, based on his own escapades through Miami, Vegas, and LA. The problem? His movie catches more industry attention than Harry’s! Meanwhile, an LA mobster, Bo Catlett, who was tied on to Harry’s last failed movie project, catches wind of the new one and decides that he wants to get involved as well, causing quite a bit of trouble for our hero, Chili.

While rereading that summary, I couldn’t help but notice that it’s a little jumpy and confusing. It has too many details, and too many characters, and it’s hard to latch onto the heart of the story…

…that’s exactly how I felt about Get Shorty.

It’s not that the book was bad, or that the story was uninteresting, it’s just that I didn’t at all feel connected to any of it. The narrative, the characters…I leapt through the book, read it quickly, but didn’t find anything to latch onto.

I think Leonard’s first misstep was the volume of characters he included in the narrative. While I usually take notes when reading, and write down quotes I want to include in my reviews – this time I found myself writing down character names, and shorthand to remember who was who. Bo and his lackeys whirled in my brain and got mixed up. He would mention a former girlfriend once…and then again, 10 chapters later, and I wouldn’t remember her name. I felt like I spent a lot of the book playing catch-up, which wasn’t conducive to connecting with the story.  

Another misstep, at least as far as I’m concerned, was not paying enough attention or devoting enough time to the emotional life of the characters. I don’t need a crime/action novel to be a character study, but it was tough to get a handle on Chili’s motivation, on Harry’s feelings, on why Bo was so angry. I couldn’t figure out if Karen, for example, was actually smart, or if she just thought she was. I couldn’t put together what Chili saw in her as a romantic, or even friendly, interest. If I don’t understand the motivation of the characters, or where they are coming from, I have issues caring.

And if I don’t care, I’m not going to connect. 

I almost want to be able to write a clever, funny review of this book. But Get Shorty wasn’t The Carrie Diaries. It wasn’t laughably bad. It just didn’t grab me the way it should – and a book like that isn’t enough of a literary masterpiece to get away with not grabbing me.

To conclude – I don’t recommend you read Get Shorty, but I also have to acknowledge that I might have a minority opinion. I know plenty of people who love all that is Leonard, and who love this book. I’m just not one of them.


I almost feel badly for writing this particular review, and I think that’s why it came out a little shorter than the others. Maybe it’s because I view other Leonard work (like Justified) as worthy of praise, and I don’t want it to seem like I’m bashing him because I didn’t enjoy the book.

But I take each book as they come – and I didn’t like this one. If you want a more rave review of a crime novel, check out my next entry. You won’t be disappointed.

Next Review: The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (Expected posting date: Friday, February 14th)

**All annotations refer to this version of Get Shorty, published by The Delacorte Press in 1990**

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