Hating the player, not the game.

I tried to write this post a couple months ago.  In fact, I DID write it, but as I clicked “publish”, iWeb froze and I lost the whole post.  It was the final straw that made me switch over to WordPress.  I thought I would give it another whirl.

I have a problem separating a work of literature from its writer.  Not so much if the writer has been dead for a sufficient amount of time, but for contemporary  writers, if I don’t like the writer, it effects my view of the work itself.

One excellent example is Jonathan Franzen.  I have been told by three people, whose opinions on books I trust implicitly, that The Corrections is the best thing since sushi but I happen to have seen Franzen in a couple of interviews before picking up his book and now I can’t get more than a couple of pages into the Corrections before setting it aside because I can’t get the guy’s pretentious, better-than-thou, douchey voice out of my head.  I am sure it is as good as I keep hearing, but I’ve started the thing three times now and I just can’t do it; and remember, I’m not a guy who sets books aside once I start them.  The only book, besides The Corrections, that I can remember not finishing is “Ulysses” and I don’t personally know anyone who can get through that one.

The strange thing is, I don’t have the same reaction to artists that use other mediums.  The fact that Axel Rose is an incredible ass doesn’t stop me from listening to Sweet Child of Mine.  From what I’ve read about him, Dali wasn’t really someone I’d want to buddy-up with but it doesn’t stop me from admiring and enjoying his work.  In fact, visual artists, musicians and performing artists, I somewhat expect to be on the crazy, self-absorbed asshole side of life and it won’t stop me from buying their stuff.

Recently I read Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane.  I am a fan of Lehane.  I read and enjoyed all of his Kenzie/Gennaro books, along with two or three of his stand-alone novels.  I’d say he’s one of my favorite crime writers, because his books are an excellent combination of really good prose and a well-structured mystery.  A lot of times you might get one or the other, but to have both is rare.

About two years ago, I was discussing Lehane with a good friend of mine, and he pointed out an article in Entertainment Weekly entitled Done Baby Done.  You can give the article a read if you want, but basically it talks about how shitty his Kenzie/Gennaro books were at how he’d never write another.  In fact he said,  ”I was never comfortable with them anyway. I’d be writing these friggin’ whodunits,” he laughs, getting excited, ”and I could care less. I wanna tell everybody on page 2, he killed so-and-so, he done it! If you look at my books in that regard — and I’ll be 100 percent honest about my flaws — you can see how I was whipping out the kitchen sink just to obscure s—, like the identity of the serial killer or whatever, and that’s why the books got so labyrinthian in the last 100 pages.”

So…I have a bit of a problem with this because it someone belittles the opinion of all of the people that went out and bought those books.  The very people that put him where he is today and made him a very rich man.  But hey, there’s nothing to say that someone can’t go back and look at something they did in the past and judge it to be a giant steaming turd.  I can respect that.  Every artist wants to grow, and in fact he goes on to say, “My publishers, they’ve been clear if I ever wrote one, they’d back a truckful of money onto my driveway, but I don’t want to be the guy who goes back to the well just so I could buy another house.”

So, ok.  No more Kenzie / Gennaro novels.  He’s on to bigger and better things.  But then a few weeks ago I was looking for something to read and came across Moonlight Mile, which just happens to be a new Kenzie / Gennaro novel by Mr. Lehane.  I guess that truckful of money was more attractive than he first thought.  OK.  I can still get over it.  He’s a sell-out.  That’s ok.  Everyone needs a new boat every now and again.  Maybe his wife hit up Neiman Marcus a few times too many and he was in a pinch.  Maybe his kid needed an operation.  Fine.  Everyone needs to get paid.

Now comes the spoilers, so if you have any desire to read this book, then stop reading this blog.

BUT BUT BUT, then the guy turns Patrick Kenzie into spineless tool.  One of the appeals of the character is that he is smart, practical, street savy and a total badass when he needs to be.  But in the end of this book, he finds he just has no stomach for the private eye life anymore and he turns down a lucrative job at a big security firm to go back to school and become a friggin’ jr. high teacher.

Lehane completely emasculated the character of Patrick Kenzie.  It was almost like Lehane hated this character that he created and wanted his readers to feel the same way.  It’s a little like how Doyle turned Sherlock Holmes into a drug addled deviant so his readers to stop wanting to read him.

The thing is, if you don’t like a character, then stop writing him.  But to do it just for the money, when you already have loads, and then to do the character and your readers a disservice by  turning the character into a spineless idiot is a fairly shitty thing to do.  It’s flipping your nose at all the people who made you the success that you are.

I keep hearing that The Given Day is a great read, but now I can’t bring myself to buy it.

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Published in: on July 31, 2011 at 9:02 am  Comments (4)  
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