Elmore Leonard sure has wormed his way into our culture, what a great writer, forever, I love him more and more.
And I just had the great pleasure, again, of savoring his prose from other decades, what a trip. He gets better and better, but, boy, was he great all along: early westerns, then contemporary sociopath centerpieces.
Right now I’m delectating his Moonshine Wars, 1969. Prohibition, a fed thug is sizing up a moonshiner, an old army acquaintance, figuring to steal his stash of aged whiskey and sell it himself: let the state pay him a salary while he plays the field for himself.
I read this full of awareness of another great book (and a bunch more besides, my current reading has never been richer thanks to my son’s gift of a kindle together with the e-library he maintains online, hundreds and hundreds of great books I wouldn’t likely have found on my own, broke and isolated: Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, 2011. Now that is a great cover-the-ground for cornucopia, pharmacopia … controlled substances: our history as gatherers, growers, and mind-everybody’s-businessers.
The state confiscates land, cash, time … encourages cattle, discourages sheep, then encourages agriculture, discourages thinking, encourages war, then forbids it … We’re a Christian culture, so wine is good, pot is evil. whiskey is good, so long as it’s bottled and sold by this friend of the kleptocrats …
The British wanted to sell English whiskey, the Scots made their own wiskey, always had, so the British make making whiskey illegal, selling it an act of piracy, except for the whiskey made by the king’s friend. Well, the US tried something similar, except it’s all mixed up with Puritanism: no whiskey at all, just wine, smash all the stills … and the government has no friends: smash everything! in the name of God.
In the Leonard novel the moonshiner is a man: strong, silent, we like him. But the fed crook is himself a man, interesting, we wish we were more like him: a raider, an opportunist, none-too-smart, none-too-moral …
The moonshiner has a nice relationship with a black guy, also a man, also strong, silent, independent: yet the relationship between the two of them reflects the US and its sorry history: there’s no question which one is regarded as legitimate by the neighbors and which one the squatter. The n- does fairly well for himself having this particular symbiont. [Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 03 Offensive terms go dosido in fashion.]
The other characters Leonard mixes in are all also pretty neat, females as well as males.
It’s particularly interesting for me to read this now, in the wake of a string of books about the total war waged by Lincoln’s Republican Union against southerners. I am further reminded of the state’s modern habit of taking over rackets: the Italians run numbers, the state busts Italian heads, then monopolizes lotteries. Last year little Vito sold the tickets, this year it’s Archie and Jughead: while Vito’s dad is still in jail. No royalties are paid to the busted dons.
The Appalachians understand perfectly well the racket the fed is extorting them with.
The dialogue, as always, is fabulous, what an ear, peer to Wolfe, tradition of Twain.