Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Much Needed Perspective

Okay, so I've gushed about James Lee Burke a few times now and it occurred to me that there are a few points that can be made against him as a novelist to balance against the lavish praise I've already heaped upon him.

He went through a stretch of books where he seemed to fall in love with a saying or a phrase and then use it to excess. The best example I can think of is in the book Heaven's Prisoners where an ex-con bartender named Jerry tells Dave that he ain't no "swinging dick." At the time I didn't know what a swinging dick was. As time has passed and I've aged and matured, I still haven't got the foggiest idea. Conceding that this would have been an entirely appropriate phrase to use in the context of this conversation, Burke goes on to have just about everybody in the book use the same phrase in completely different contexts. Men say it, women say it, bad guys say it, good guys say it. Whatever it means, it must be really nifty. I just have a hard time believing it could be so universally useful.

It reminds me of a trend a few years back that thankfully went away. I don't know if it was an industry wide conspiracy or just a case of author following author following author but for a while, everybody dropped an 'as.' Instead of saying something like "the grass was as green as a Crayola crayon," the first 'as' would be dropped and the phrase would read "the grass was green as a Crayola crayon." This always troubled me but thankfully someone pulled a universal chain and order was restored to the universe. So much so that you never see instances of the dropped 'as' anymore. Clearly this is an acknowledgment of the mistake.

But back to Burke. There was another trend that seems to have died out with every author but Mr. Burke and he's been perpetuating it through a number of books now. Someone somewhere decided that males exude the "smell of testosterone." At least I know what that means, I think, but I don't know what it is. What does testosterone smell like? I've yet to come across an author who's used this phrase to actually describe it. Does it smell like a flower? A chicken? Old Spice?

First of all, I don't believe it has a smell, at least not one given off externally. So I did some research online and I couldn't find a single reference to the smell of testosterone which, I'm happy to say, seems to confirm that when I walk my manliness into a hot and humid room recently occupied by the Swedish Bikini Team, it ain't my testosterone you're smelling. But there is a caveat to this...

I found a number of references to the smell of urine which contains testosterone. Ahhh, so maybe when Burke's and these other writers' characters have incontinence issues or bedwetting traumas or some such thing. Possibly they didn't shake so well before entering the room and dribbled.
Whatever the case, it's another trend or trope whose day has hopefully come and gone.

See, I can be objective even where my idols are concerned. I can report the good as well as the bad. I think I just need to find something better to do with my time.


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