Thursday, October 14, 2010

Where has the lightweight division gone?

I’m reading Lisa Gardner’s HIDE right now and enjoying it. The book has alternating points of view. On my iPod, I’m working out to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, also enjoying that.

My own work this week has me revisiting a novel I finished last spring. Going back with fresh eyes. As I polish the manuscript, I find myself swimming against my usual currents: as I edit, instead of paring the book down, I’m adding to it—enhancing secondary characters and building a stronger back-story for my antagonist.

All of this is done—and can be done—because the book, like the two I’m currently reading, is written using multiple points of view. I can remember vividly finishing the first draft and being exhausted, longing to do a single point of view book—just set the character on the stage and follow him or her around. Some of my favorite writers, contemporary and many of the classics, use a single point of view, typically first person. Of course, Chandler comes to mind. But so does the late New England writer William Tapply, whose Brady Coyne and Stoney Calhoun series read like a slow, soothing walk through the woods.

All of this leads me to wonder what ever happened to the lightweight division, those 180-page featherweight extraordinaires like Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer series. Even THE BIG SLEEP totals only 220 pages. Much recent discussion has taken place on this blog regarding stand-alone vs. series novels. Typically, the stand-alone must be a “bigger” book, figuratively and literally. Radio programs in the 1940s, DRAGNET in particular, are credited with broadening the popularity of crime fiction. Perhaps contemporary television shows continue to have a similar effect on our genre. Society, after all, has an insatiable appetite for realism. And cop shows typically offer multiple points of view. Has crime fiction followed that trend? Where has the glorious character-driven lightweight division gone?

1 comment:

Vicki Delany said...

Good post, John. I am just finishing Queen of the Night by J.A. Jance. I've liked her books before but the only reason I'm finishing this one is that I got it on audio to listen to when I went to Rochester earlier this week. It is waaay too long. Repetition, too much character background, an entire sub-plot that has nothing to do with the main story. It would have been a good book at about 1/2 the length.