Publishers Weekly has reviewed my upcoming novel, Let It Ride (which is known as Swap in Canada where it is already available).
Let It Ride John McFetridge. Minotaur, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-59948-5
Too many characters and points of view throw off the rhythm of this sprawling homage to caper-master Elmore Leonard from Canadian author McFetridge (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere). Venard “Get” McGetty, a vet who served in Afghanistan, crosses the border from Detroit to Toronto looking to exchange guns for coke. As Get takes in the scope of the action of the Saints of Hell gang, he meets Sunitha Suraiya, a whore with big plans. Big Pete Zichello, a rival holdout targeted for elimination, tries to fight back, while Richard Tremblay, the head of the Saints of Hell who brought all the other gangs into line, tries to buy time for his last move. Meanwhile, Get and Sunitha hatch a daring plan to steal a jackpot of gold. Amid the busy plot, McFetridge does a good job depicting a crime-ridden Toronto (aka the Big Smoke) that resembles the wide-open Chicago of Prohibition days with corrupt cops, gang warfare, and flourishing prostitution. (Feb.)
That's a pretty good summation of the events.
And, of course, it has me a little worried because the book I'm working on now probably has just as many characters and points of view. Not that I can do anything about it, it's the way I write and pretty much the only way I can write (I know this from years and years of failure trying to write other ways).
Besides, I find the, "too many characters," complaint is something I could see more for a movie. I like books that dig into a lot of different characters. It's one of the things that a book can do much better than a movie (which isn't to say I've done it well in Swap/Let It Ride, just that I'll keep trying to get better).
And I do prefer books that aren't trying to be movies.
Obvisouly there are some clear differences between watching a movie and reading a book and I wonder if it affects the content.
Movies we (usually) watch in one sitting and they have a self-contained story. If there are too many characters, too many sub-plots or points of view it can be very confusing and it's not easy to flip back and see something again. Especially if we're in the theatre. Turns out people yell, "Sit down, old man," when you try to get the projectionist to rewind.
Of course, watching movies at home makes this a little easier, unless your wife keeps saying, "Would just pay attention, that's the guy who sold him the gun, sheesh."
TV shows have changed in my lifetime from completely stand-alone episodes that often contradicted earlier episodes to season long arcs. Sometimes I wait until the DVD box set comes out and watch a whole season over a week so I have at least a small chance of remembering if Bubbles is out of rehab.
But books, books have always been a solitary experience. I can flip back as much as I want to see who that guy is. Sometimes I end up rereading earlier passages and seeing them a whole new way. Okay, once a guy on the subway let out a frustrated sigh when I turned the page backwards instead of forward but he was getting tired of me reading so slowly anyway.
TV used to have an inferiority complex (this is something we're experts on here in Canada) and tried to compete with the movies. I guess sometimes it still does, but cable TV has really started to figure out what it can do better than the movies - deeper, longer, character-driven stories. The Wire could never have been a movie. Mad Men, Deadwood, The Sporanos - none of them could have been very good movies.
And books are still books. As long as it's still possible to fill books with lots of characters and lots of points of view, that's what I'm going to do. I've been reading George V. Higgins lately, books that were published in the early 70's and they have lots of charcters - I'm flipping back fairly often to see what these guys did earlier but I don't mind. Sometimes I'm surprised that since the 70's crime novels haven't gone even further in this direction.
Oh, and no review of Swap/Let It Ride has ever mentioned the murder of the husband and wife on their way home from a "lifestyle" (wife-swapping) event. Now, if that show Swingtown had been cable, it might still be going...