It seems wrong to structure this as obit, somehow. No one who writes words like that really ends, do they? Elmore Leonard writes–wrote, it’s wrote–with such a pungent, fierce, sly, inspiring, dizzying command of the language, mostly because he understood the key element was editing, keeping the prose as lean and tight and sharp as possible. He was a master with only the barest apparent interest in showing off his mastery, ignoring any inclination he might have had to dazzle with curlicue sentences or florid descriptions. Leonard always opted for the shortest distance between the story in his head and his readers’ enraptured eyes. That doesn’t mean his prose was simple. Quite the contrary, it was flush with personality. Some authors endeavor to capture how people really talk, some craft dialogue that essentially puts forth a heated suggestion about how people should talk. Leonard found a crazy sweet spot somewhere in between the two.
I started reading Leonard in the mid-nineteen-nineties, back when I was often basing my book list on what had notably been picked up by Hollywood for major, intriguing productions. My goal was to be knowledgable about source material before seeing a film, but it was also an easy way to find new titles, especially as I was extremely busy, regularly working around sixty to seventy hours a week. But I was also out of school for the first time in my life, meaning there were no more assigned texts, its own sort of blessed freedom. This was an especially fruitful time for Leonard on the big screen, overdue payback for a writer who had been notoriously ill–served by film adaptions. He was the beneficiary of the attention of strong directors working near their peak, such as Barry Sonenfeld and especially Steven Soderbergh. it’s telling that the weakest of the high-profile adaptations around this time was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino, whatever his strengths, never stops showing off. Leonard never starts. He doesn’t need to.
See there? I got the tense wrong again.