Charlie Martz and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard, Morrow, 237 pages, $25.99; Four Novels of the 1980s by Elmore Leonard, Library of America, 1,010 pages, $37.50, available Sept. 1. You don’t have to assent completely to have gotten an enormous kick out of Elmore Leonard’s unswerving ascent into master status in the world of American literature. In the precincts – so many bookstores, still – where “fiction” is an entirely different category from “Literature,” it was easy to credit Leonard’s impeccable craftsmanship in one place without putting him into the Big Category, where people throw the “L” word around but not their money (and no, I don’t mean “love”).
But the editor of the Library of America is Geoffrey O’Brien, as sapient and witty an exponent and historian of American pulp as you’re liable to find. And voila, Elmore Leonard is a prominent author in the Library of America list, along with Hawthorne, Melville, James (Henry AND William), Nabokov, Roth, Updike etc. etc.
Here are two Elmore Leonard books for summer readers – one of works by a younger Leonard for early summer and one, from Library of America, to be published Sept. 1 collecting Leonard’s major novels of the ’80s: “City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit,” “La Brava,” “Glitz,” and “Freaky Deaky.” His greatest Detroit novel, “City Primeval” emerged from a piece Leonard wrote for the Sunday Magazine of the Detroit News where he followed some Detroit homicide cops around. It is included at the end of the Library of America volume .
That is late Elmore Leonard when his mastery was a matter of widespread affirmation if not quite universal. Leonard from the very beginning of his career, is found in the stories of “Charlie Martz” when, as his son Peter tells us in the foreword, were written while Leonard “worked at Campbell-Ewald, an advertising agency, writing Chevrolet ads. For almost a decade, he got up at 5 a.m. and wrote two pages of fiction before he went to work.”
He is trying new things (for him at the time) in these 15 stories, 11 of which are appearing for the first time. He is, of course, a better writer in the Library of America volume, but masters deserve attention for their early work, no?
– Jeff Simon