Writing for Art or Audience?

I recently finished reading “Killing Floor” a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. There’s something about a tough-guy novel that is either hit or miss. From the looks of things, Jack Reacher is a major hit, with Tom Cruise set to star as the former MP drifter who finds trouble in all the wrong places. My biggest question is “Why?” Nothing about “Killing Floor” seemed uniquely worthwhile. The tale is fast-paced, but the style it is written in leaves much to be desired.

For starters, narrated from the first person POV of the main character, Jack Reacher, it struck me as odd that many of his sentences were really sentence fragments. It was rather annoying to read short, choppy sentences one after the other as Child tries to forge his character this way, only to have the character, rather uncharacteristically, go into great detail about the washed chinos and faded polo shirt another male character is wearing. It just didn’t work out for a man with so few concerns about things like physical appearance and personal hygiene to know enough about fashion when it comes to sizing up other characters. Additionally, Jack Reacher’s love interest is only known by her last name, “Roscoe.” I thought it disgusting that Roscoe liked to eat a big, wholesome, manly breakfast of eggs and bacon (if memory serves) not long after sleeping with Reacher. Apparently Reacher likes his women like himself. It was just odd that Child never gave Roscoe a first name, and that Reacher only thought of his love interest by using her last name was kind of disturbing, like the way stereotypical high school football players only ever mention each other by their last names. That type of masculinity in thought and dialog works well in some places, but even uber-manly films like Predator had characters who were known by their first names (e.g. Billy). Finally, Roscoe uses the word “lugubrious” to describe another man, and Reacher somehow knows what that means. Nothing in the first several hundred pages gives the reader the idea that Reacher has that word in his lexicon. And yet, there it is – laugh-out-loud funny because it reads so uncharacteristically for all the characters involved.

Overall, the story isn’t that bad. Predictable in parts, and laughable in certain attributes, yes, but it was a quick read. I just wonder what stands out about this novel enough to make Tom Cruise want to appear as Reacher on film that I obviously can’t fathom. It can’t be for its prose, and though it is an entertaining story, it is by no means comparable to Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series (the ones Ludlum himself actually wrote, that is). Perhaps that’s just it, though. It was a New York Times Best Seller. Maybe it was the only book to hit the shelves that week, but money is the bottom line. Cruise and the film studio can surely turn a decent profit; hell, the movie may end up being far better than the book for all I know. Perhaps that is my undoing as a writer – in trying to carefully craft sentences and dialog so as to play with language and require thought to digest it properly, I am writing for the sake of art, whereas Child knows better and writes for the target audience.

Regardless of the book’s shortcomings, it has given me plenty to think about. Doubt I’ll buy another from Child, though. Not really my thing. All manly like. With the lack of words.

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About waronliteracy

Storyteller, teacher, author of "Perfect Solution" and "Dire Requisite," I stand alone in the aftermath of the war on literacy, looking for other survivors ... we are out there ... somewhere.
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