Monday, January 9, 2012

More Proof for my Elmore Leonard Theory -- And It Becomes an Actual Theory

Elmore Leonard
Artist:  Kerry Waghorn
Last March I posted an article wherein I noted that there was a particular phrase that appears in many, if not almost every, Elmore Leonard novel. 

That phrase is:  "How's that sound?"

You can read about that theory -- which I had to admit was more of an observation, since I couldn't think of any grand conclusion to draw from it -- here:  A Minor but, I Think, Original Theory About Elmore Leonard
I gave seven or eight examples from recent novels searchable online or on my Nook.  I must say that I did not find it in the most recent novel, Djibouti

I just downloaded a short novel called "Fire in the Hole."  It provides some background for the award-winning FX original series "Justified" based on the adventures of one of my favorite Leonard characters, Raylan Givens, a quick-drawing U.S. Marshal.   In the novella, Givens is pursuing a childhood friend, Boyd Crowder, who has gone bad.  He heads a white supremacist group that plans (and carries out) acts of robbery and terror in the name of fighting against what it regards as Jewish-controlled and racially bastardized American society.   Crowder's brother Bowman has just been shot to death by his severely abused wife, Ava.  Ava, the late Bowman, and Raylan Givens had all been in high school together and Ava had a crush on Raylan before Raylan and Boyd went to Vietnam.  Raylan visits Ava to try to get a lead on Boyd, who is billeted with his fanatics in several locations in the Appalachian backcountry. 

Ava puts the moves on Raylan.  The final paragraph of Chapter VII:

"She said 'Hey, I'm just teasing you.  I know you have  a life.  You must a cool guy like you?  No, I just thought, you're here, why don't we party?  I can still do those old Wildcat cheers I know you liked to watch.  I still have all the cute moves.  Get your motor turned on.  You want, Raylan, you can spend the night.  How's that sound?'"

So, there you have it.  More proof of my theory-which-was-really-just-a-puzzled-observation. 

But wait!  There may be more to this than I originally thought.  On the website, we find the following quotes:

--  "Writing is just a bunch of sounds."

--  "Leonard admits he never visited Djibouti.  He chose the title because he liked the sound."

--  In criticizing the movie made of his novel "Be Cool":  "It's not my sound; it's not my attitude at all."

 In my original piece last March, I wrote:  "I wish I could argue that Leonard plants this phrase in all of his books (if he does) as a pointer toward the importance of sound in literature, a subliminal reminder to his serial readers that prose must have the cadence and vocabulary of ordinary speech to engage the reader." 

I may have been on to something. 

Or, quite possibly, not.  Make of it what you will.


  1. I thnk you're reading WAY too much into this. Or else you're smoking too much weed and not watching enough football. ROLLLLLLLL TIDE!

  2. Very interesting. EL's "sound" is his signature, I agree. His dialog is dead solid perfect. How's that sound?

  3. yeah i always liked the way his charachters didnt necessarily have a load of stuff to say but how what they do say in the context of the story you get the cadence an it sounds fuckin cool.
    bama boy watches way too much footy dont smoke enuff weed..

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I think you're on to something, Steve. Familiar phrases and past character names show up in almost all Elmore Leonard books. There's an entire discussion dedicated to the phenomena known as 'touchstones' at's Dutch Forum.
    Another common phrase is "You know it?"

  6. One -- no, two more items: In "Raylan," page 27, Nook version: Coover Bennett talking to Raylan: "You can ask am I growin reefer and I'll tell you no. But first I ask you any God damn thing I want. How's that sound?"

    Page 125: Jackie getting a ride from Buddy, making her escape: "What I need to make is the buy-in money, win the tournament, pay off Reno and get back to Butler in time for graduation. How does that sound?"

  7. And another thing: In doing my Nook search for those two phrases I remembered from my reading, searching for "sound," I got lots and lots of hits not related to the phrase -- more than I would expected to have received had Leonard employed the word randomly.

    So there you have . . . something.