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I, for the record, completely disagree with T.S. Eliot. And Pablo Picasso. The beaten-in-the-ground-so-many-times-it-has-turned-to-powder quote that ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal (actually, it originally reads as ‘immature poets imitate, mature poets steal) has become a catchall excuse for bad imitation. I personally would appreciate some subtlety. A mere nod, or a tip o’ the hat, perhaps, could go a long way.
Enter John Brandon’s Arkansas . This drug-crime cum slacker novel owes more than its fair share to Elmore Leonard’s brand of gritty crime mystery works. Where many novelists are too eager to ‘tell it on the mountain’, Brandon works within the confines of a confident subtlety. Instead of a flashing neon light’s proclaiming his love and reverence for Leonard, you get palmed a small handwritten note.
The novel itself is smart without being clever. Emotional but not sentimental. You have the ennui of typical slacker novels coupled with a drug dealing operation that never seems to fully realize itself. You begin to realize these characters probably aren’t as smart as they think they are. And you begin to see some holes developing in their operation and you get the sense that, ya know, this just isn’t going to end well. The plot will keep you reading, but Brandon’s precise, pared down prose is a perfect fit for the salt of the earth characters he created.