The new Neal Stephenson gargantuan novel, Anathem, was so absolutely satisfying that it sort of left me high and dry in the reading-for-pleasure department. I mean, what could possibly follow such a tour de force? First I turned to Captains Courageous to keep the reading high going by means of the verbal surprises (e.g. “…they laughed themselves hungry.”) that Kipling scatters by the handful on every page. Next, García Márquez’s 100 Years of Solitude was so thick with wonderous invention that turning the final page was like waking from a dream.
Rudyard and Gabriel had done their jobs well: I was ready to return to reading trash.
A random movie choice pointed the way. Ed Harris’s snazzy cowboy flick, Appaloosa, awoke my curiosity about novelist Robert B. Parker. The guy knocks out about fifty books a year, mostly private eye yarns starring Spenser the Detective. I admit to having harbored a slight prejudice against the blameless fellow because he seemed to be in good odor with the sort of New York Times reviewers who lionize Elmore Leonard to prove they aren’t snobs. But, then, I figured a mystery series featuring a guy whose favorite comic strip is Arlo and Janis, had to have something going for it. So when I learned that Mr. Parker had jumped genres to write the western novel, Appaloosa, on which the movie was based, I bit. Actually bought a paperback copy, I did.
And I’m glad: laconic dialogue so dense with unspoken meaning it’s almost poetic. Action all the more actiony for the dry way it’s related. Not one single wasted word. What I wished Louis L’Amour was but isn’t. Wallace Stegner without all that goldarned literary respectability. It’s cowboys. Cowboys. They shoot bad guys, ride horses, and scratch their heads trying to figger out those women folks.
Appaloosa cheerfully did the job I paid it to do. And look: there are about 3,000 more Robert B. Parker novels standing in line, each one anxious to please.