LEONARDS "WHEN THE WOMEN COME OUT TO DANCE "
BOOK REVIEW BY ALEX GRANT
The secret of
Elmore "Dutch" Leonards success over the past half century
is plainly admitted on page 97 of his new collection of nine short stories
written between 1982 and 2001. A character in the fifth story of WHEN
THE WOMEN COME OUT TO DANCE - "Fire In The Hole" - broods "
something he had borrowed from a western movie. He liked westerns a lot."
Dutch himself is an aficionado of the oater/sagebrush genre of movie.
The first five of Leonards forty novels were set in The Old West,
with is subtly anti-racist HOMBRE being his very finest work of Western
fiction long-format It was filmed with Paul Newman, as an Apache half-breed,
and Richard Boone as a dissolute ex--Army officer turned robber, in 1967.
Two earlier cowboy movies that have earned well-deserved classic status
today were taken from the short stories "Dutch" had penned in
the early Fifties THE TALL T and 3.10 TO YUMA, both 1957. Each
exemplifies the typical Leonardesque pared-down plots and the highly ambiguous
characters that Dutch has perfected :- commonly the bad guy
is charming and worldly; the good guy naïve and bitterly
moralistic; often on a quest for vengeance. Elmore Leonard has unceasingly
re-invented the stock figures and the clichéd events of the run-of-the-mill
western by transposing them to the modern world of big city intrigue and
mayhem without damaging the pristine appeal and mythic power of a good
The duel-of-wits between villainous and verbose dandy Richard Boone and
laconic puritanical loner cowhand Randolph Scott in THE TALL T, adapted
from the short story "The Captives", resonates throughout every
later "showdown"/ confrontation in Leonards urban-jungle
crime novels. In Dutchs world men have to settle their differences
for once and for all by slapping leather and outdrawing one
another mentally and in gunplay face-to-face.Otherwise their self-respect
will dwindle to nothingness. The protean assertion of self-hood is truly
Likewise the struggle between dour penniless farmer Van Heflin and charming
gang-leader and scoundrel Glenn Ford in 3.10 TO YUMA is classic "Dutch"
pyrotechnics. And in both films the sense of a looming tragedy of almost
Greek classical proportions is cagily implied. These were the forerunners
of the adult Western that rode the silver screens range from THE
SEARCHERS [ 1956 ] through UNFORGIVEN [ 1992 ] centering upon lost-souls
of men struggling to quell their racist and violent urges. Such horse-operas
as Leonards were in the vanguard of adult westerns that
swept the oater genre into the modern world of Freud and of Jung
introducing plausibly both mythic and psychosexual elements that resonated
across history.. Dutchs talent lay in ensuring a close fit with
the actual 1800s in every last detail .His protagonists were
modern men and women who seemed authentically lodged in a
period context, which is an almost miraculous feat of the writers
imagination working at full throttle.
Two of the yarns in WHEN THE WOMEN are set in The Old West,The Tonto
Woman" and "Hurrah For Capt. Early ".. And both are exemplary
- taut and resonant in the inimitable "Dutch" style of laconic
mastery. Not one wasted word. Even when dealing with fashionable
issues of sexism and racism.
The two lengthiest stories - the aforesaid "Fire In The Hole"
and "Tenkiller" - are irresistible macho/ mano-a-mano duels
between men whose respect for one another is tangible despite deep enmity
and fully warranted anger at the root.The title story "When The Women
Come Out To Dance" is a emphatically different in both its tone and
its content, almost all of its diabolical implications remaining cannily
unstated. It is convincingly contemporary and relevant as a concise statement
about men and women caught in a melting-pot that refuses to melt as deeply-
rooted ethnic traditions lead to bizarre misunderstandings and perverse
expectations between horny middle-aged men and devious gold-digging women
determined to have their way ruthlessly cutting their swathe from trendy
titty-bar to suburban swimming-pool. A truly wry and acerbic tale worthy
of either Ernest Hemingway or of O.Henry.
The last of the nine stories in WHEN THE WOMEN "Tenkiller" -
first published in this collection - is a complex morality fable clearly
refined from "Dutchs" early devotion to the essence of
the cowboy showdown when real men go for broke and must inexorably
prove their manhood at risk of life and limb. Here as so often hard-bitten
Good Ol Boys who were childhood or teenage/work buddies
are doomed to clash in later life as law enforcers and lawbreakers. Fate
ordains such a showdown. An ardent and insightful masculinist Elmore Leonard
never neglects to incorporate both the erotic and the affectionate interplay
of men and women whilst reminding us that each and every man is driven
" to do what a man has to do " - whether it be sex and/or violence,
retribution or self-affirmation. Or all four at one and the same time.
Now thats going for broke,huh?The constant thread of male psychology
fuelling the Slant-6 engine of WHEN THE WOMEN is the instinctive primal
Alpha -Maleness that lurks in every one of us : even in the opposite sex.
Never overlook the fact that estrogen is 10% testosterone! Canny self-interest
and self-assertion just take a very different form on the distaff side
of gender."Vive La Difference, NEst Ce Pas ?What a boring thing
life would be without the sex differences in aggression and self-affirmation,
huh? Its our profound divergences that make men and women so endless
a subject for fiction.
© Alex Grant 2003
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