May 8, 2010

THEY HAVE A GREAT NAME FOR THE PHENOMENON IN THE MAG...:

Is American Fiction Killing the Tough Guy?: Lee Child's Jack Reacher is literature's latest Chandler-esque protagonist. Can he live up this legacy? (David Granger, May 2010, Esquire)

I finished Lee Child's new novel the morning that I read Robert B. Parker's obituary. Parker wanted to be the heir to Raymond Chandler, who was the direct descendant of Dashiell Hammett, who, with the Continental Op, created the only genre of fiction original to America: the tough-guy novel. The American tough-guy novel is distinct from thrillers or procedurals or mysteries because it features an honorable and tragic protagonist — a man driven to do the right thing even though doing the right thing will exact a fearsome personal price. This archetypal character has had legs — the Op, Sam Spade, Chandler's Philip Marlowe on up through Robert Towne's J. J. Gittes, Stephen J. Cannell's Jim Rockford, James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, and Parker's Spenser, to name only a few.

I say that Parker wanted to be the heir to Chandler because while his desire was fierce, his ability proved lacking. His early Spenser novels came close to capturing the despair at the heart of the tough-guy hero, but Parker could not sustain it. Each new Spenser novel was slighter than the last, cheerier, too, and less tortured. For tough guys to be tough guys they must be out of sync with the world in which they find themselves, valuable only because they are more able, more competent, than other mortals. Over time, Spenser lost that.


..."protagonistic decline." The disease is especially virulent on television, where the folks playing the best characters want all their edges smoothed off to make them more likable (see the entire cast of MASH, unwatchable after one season).

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 8, 2010 5:20 PM
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