Thursday, June 21, 2007

Jack Reacher

“Nobody knew where Jack Reacher was. He had left the Grange Farm two hours after the backhoe had shut down, and there had been no news since.” These are the last lines of Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher book, The Hard Way. Child is a terrific storyteller and Jack Reacher, a tough ex-army MP, a compelling character. Why? Because we know so little about him. He is literally a man of Mystery – that plus his ability to crush anything that’s thrown at him!

Lee Child gets that what makes a good story a great story is pointing, not explaining. As you race through the entire Jack Reacher series (and I promise you that you will), Reacher’s past emerges in intriguing snippets, not great chunks of backstory. You grow to know him as you do a real person. When you first meet someone, they don’t launch into a detailed narrative of their life – or if they do the relationship is going to be a short one. Sure we do the ‘I am a big Stones fan’ and 'live in the coolest part of (name your own city or town)' shorthand to get that stuff out of the way, but then it’s a far more subtle exchange.

We drastically edit the information we offer. The story we tell about ourselves is as much about the gaps as about the facts. We pump up the Mystery and others jump in to make our story theirs. Lee Child is genius at this. He strips Jack Reacher down to the essentials – this is a man who regards his toothbrush as an important possession! You should try to get to know him.


Kempton said...

Hi Kevin,

Has Jack Reacher been made into a TV series or movie yet? May be I will check those out.

In Canada, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, our former prime minister (one that I hold the highest regard) is a complete mystery to many people until possibly the recent authorized biography "Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau Volume One: 1919-1968" by John English. A book that I am reading/scanning at the moment. I understand even Trudeau's own auto-biography doesn't go into things in much detailed. John has full and complete access to "a huge trove of letters and personal documents" ... "papers from an extraordinary collection that revals the private hopes, fears, loves, and loathings of Trudeau from his earliest years until his death."

To me, I have always enjoyed biography a lot more than fiction as sometimes (e.g. in the case of Trudeau) real life can be a lot more interesting and instructive than fiction. In fiction, high ideals achieved by heroes are great but they are not comparable to those small victories achieved by people under less than ideal settings. OK, I am seriously biased on this and I probably have not idea what I am talking about here.

Best Regards,

Susan956 said...

Ever have what I call a "Fame Moment"?

You know: the part of the movie where the spontaneous dancing is happening in the street. Haven't you ever been somewhere and LONGED for that to happen? I have and do.

I have movers bring my things into an apartment this morning and at one point was helping one with small objects. The lift sailed away from us at one point and returned and the doors opened...a beautifully suited man was nudging my mannequin dummy prone on the lift floor urging it to "wake up..wake up".

I was JUST so delighted.

I know this article is about Reacher and I have already absorbed and done a thousand conceptual jumps. I'll be back sooner or later :-)

Susan956 said...

Ok..ahem..back in the time continuum.. :)

Have you ever noticed that at a party if you totally ignore someone or don't look at them that eventually they wonder why and wind up coming to talk to you? Not all the time..but it often happens.

The admonition in my narrative field that parallels "pointing, not explaining" is "show don't tell". I've had to radically alter my expression form to work in this field because I tend to be analytical and sometimes overly so.
Reflexive work obviously *does* build in analysis however it is the *way* this is done that counts.

And for budding writers et al..don't think more experienced folk don't receive rigorous reviews on their work. I sent my book at one point to a US writer/academic I really admire and he was more than to the point about flaws he saw in the work (one of them being show don't tell). He also commented on tortured writing and how far one should go in revealing inner agonies or the back story as Kevin has described it today. It was an extremely valuable experience for me and I didn't take offence or become precious because I really trusted his judgment. I am also confident enough to reject views I don't agree with.

I think it pays to remember that what WE may find absorbing about our background may be a total turn off bore of bores (to borrow a phrase from the Victor of Dibley series) to someone else. It sounds like Reacher tends to keep the reader in the now propelling forward (good state) with just that soupsant of background to allow you connectivity and a frisson of intimacy.

Where DID that jacket come from? (in the image :-O )