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First Chapters


The secret of Elmore "Dutch" Leonard’s 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 "…as 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 Leonard’s 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 cowboy yarn.

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 Leonard’s urban-jungle crime novels. In Dutch’s 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 primal.

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 screen’s 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 Leonard’s 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.. Dutch’s 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 writer’s 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 "Dutch’s" 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 that’s 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, N’Est Ce Pas ?What a boring thing life would be without the sex differences in aggression and self-affirmation, huh? It’s our profound divergences that make men and women so endless a subject for fiction.

© Alex Grant 2003


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