I ended up reading a Louis L’Amour novel on my kindle a couple of days ago. Now: as a writer, I pay serious attention to what a writer who could sell that many million books was doing. I don’t believe the wetware (us) have changed that much. I’m sure the literati (litterratty?) would find a million and one ways to sneer, but the man was able to sell books… which they generally suck at.
Let’s start by saying this particular book will never be one of my favorites, and certainly wasn’t his best. It still appealed to me a great deal more than average award winner in recent years, but that’s setting the bar on the ground. Your mileage may vary, but OVER ON THE DRY SIDE was a good learning exercise for me, because, unlike some of his other books I found myself able to step outside the story enough to see what the author is doing, rather than just being so caught up that I don’t care what they’re doing.
A good writer is something like a political campaigner. A lot is done for the result, not all of which, examined outside of the headlong progress inside… makes a whole lot of sense. A lot of it is that the reader (or voter) WANTS to believe that. That’s how you get people somehow believing a politician is too stupid to tie his own shoe-laces… and a Machiavellian genius orchestrating plots of fiendish deviousness. Yes, both. Or how mysteriously ‘confidential’ sources spout something that someone they didn’t like said or did… not when it is supposed to have happened, but at the politically useful moment, sometimes years later.
Like the reader caught up in the story, the voter (or potential voter) who wants to believe, does (most of the time, anyway. Everyone can go too far). Likewise, the reader/voter who does not want to believe… does not suspend their disbelief (likewise, most of the time).
The reader (or voter) who doesn’t have such pre-conceptions is a harder nut to crack. Now, as I said this book didn’t work for me. But it did at first, because, well, the author did that part well. I was very taken with the setting details and the character… and the hook. Dead man left on the step of his homestead, the dry remains being found by the lead POV characters. It lost me at the point that the author started adding bits because, I suspect, he didn’t know where the story was going when he started it, and didn’t go back and backfill those details. Some of the details in the initial bit just… never recur and are counter-indicated later. Without going into spoiling, think of a typical political hack job, where the person doing the accusation fills in a lot of detail about a specific place where an incident is supposed to have happened. Someone then points out that road for example or building didn’t exist, or was just too far to walk. The story then changes – without this ever being explained or corrected, to suddenly adding in a place that did exist and a driver (never previously mentioned, and whose name they can’t remember).
Now you can get carried along by the story, especially if you wish to believe… but seriously, if you’re just making up shit as you go along… in the computer era it’s fine and easy to correct and insert the right details, not have headlong flights that didn’t happen, and herds of cattle that never appear again. As for the politics… as those sort of corrections are more difficult, if you didn’t talk about when it happened but suddenly come out with it just before the election or voting in a judge or whatever, it didn’t happen. And if you have ‘anonymous reliable sources’, it definitely didn’t happen, no matter I might want to believe you.