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.