Dennis Lehane, author of “Gone Baby Gone” on “Get Shorty”
We mentioned (more than one time, in fact) of the pleasures of original illustrations created for The Folio Society’s beautiful reissues of literary classics and modern favorites. But we also love their focus on new text, looking for influential writers to sing the praises of the works that inspire them. And the latest is a must read: to accompany their reissue of Elmore Leonard’s crackling detective story (and Hollywood satire) Get Shorty, Folio brought in Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River, Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone, and more of the best criminal works of our time. And we are happy to share an except with you:
FROM INTRODUCTION A murder, a plane crash, a random assault that wasn’t exactly random, a burglary imploding, a missing child – these are basic incidents prompting many detective novels. The event that clearly illuminates the match that leads to a race against time to stop the plot, solve the homicide, leave town before the net closes or find the child. here’s how Get Shorty debut: Gangster Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni ‘borrows’ the leather jacket of a loan shark (and die-hard movie geek) named Ernesto ‘Chili’ Palmer. Chili recovers the jacket by hitting Ray in the face, which leads, a dozen years later, to (stay with me) Chili investigating the fake death of a Miami dry cleaner, which brings Chili to Las Vegas. shortly before he shows up in the study. of a Hollywood B-movie actress named Karen Flores to threaten deadbeat producer Harry Zimm, who leads him into the world of cinema, where he tries to leave the loan shark behind and become a producer – with Harry and Karen – from the movie Mr. Lovejoy. This is, my friends, an Elmore Leonard debut. Where other novels zigzag, Leonardo’s zag. The plot is not a series of bricks built on bricks to erect a formidable edifice, but a loose collection of steps one or two main characters take a path that crosses another path that leads to a building with a room where more people are gathered. When one of the those the characters come out the back door and go down a fire escape, the original character follows and enters an alley that leads to another path that winds further from that first path, which no one remembers anyway because it’s, like, ten ways back. In other words, Elmore Leonard’s storylines look less like storylines than life. Get Shorty gets so right about Hollywood: the endless race for status that plagues everyone from studio heads to parking valets; the cruel consequences of aging in a city that loves young people; the feeling that everyone has a scenario in mind, ready to pitch. (Shortly after moving here, I ran into a nun who, seconds after finding out what I did for a living, introduced me to her idea for a movie.) But Get Shorty doesn’t get anything quite as fair as the childish love that most people in the movie business have for the films themselves. You can’t be successful at satirizing something unless a part of you likes what you’re satirising, and Leonard – at the time of Get Shorty, the victim of a new round of heinous film adaptations, has somehow retained his love of cinema. Most of his books are peppered with film references, as the characters try to find the line where their film-influenced characters meet. But if the character has been in the game for long enough, who can tell the person is more real? From Leonard’s perspective, maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe we are all creatures of relentless reinvention. This is not only an acceptable way to behave, it could be our cultural birthright. Being born in the era of celluloid means being born with myths arranged all around you, as easy to touch as your own skin (which myths often become). Chili Palmer, the loan shark in search of reinvention as a film producer, is as much an ordinary man to today’s world as Walter Mitty was to his.
Excerpt from Dennis Lehane’s introduction to the Folio Society edition of “Get Shorty” (out now). Used with permission.