James Lee Burke

Friday, June 09, 2006

I'm pretty sure I've never read a book of his before, but I did pick up Sunset Limited from the $1.00 bin at the UBS today.

I'm surprised they were even selling it because the cover is missing. Then again, I bought it. heh.

I love language; love the rhythm of certain words, the emotion they can conjure and pictures they paint. I love their bite and sting; the crispness, the slip, slide and slurpiness, *g*, of them. It's a darn pleasure to read the work of a true wordsmith.

But... I have little patience with a lot of pretty words and phrases and no plot/characterization. And if I feel I like wading through a bog of text and subtext to get to the story, down goes the book.

So there I am flipping through this coverless book and the first page has the phrase:

"...the sky became as white and brightly grained as polished bone, as though all color had bled from the sky."

Nice. To paraphrase Colin from from How Not To Decorate: I'm pitching a tent in my writerly panties.

Then this describes the ocean:

"...the swells flattened into a undulating sheet of liquid tin dimpled by the leathery backs of stingrays."

And this for a sunrise:

"...risen out of the water like a mist-shrouded egg yolk."

Oh, he can't possible keep this up(?). Page 2:

"...her face glowing with a smile that was like a thorn in the heart."

Maybe he can.

I thought this was pretty effective too:

"...been in the Marine Corps and still wore his hair buzzed to the scalp and shaved in a razor-neat line on the back of his neck. His body was lean and braided with muscle, his walk measured and erect as if he were on a parade ground."

How's that for an intro AND characterization?

You'll hear many times that the best lessons you can learn as a writer is to read other's work. I think Mr. Burke can teach me a lot in this book, and hopefully I'll be entertained with a damn good story along the way.

Just went looking for the cover img to post and saw that this is part of series. JLB has 16 previous books, and here is little ole me 'discovering' him. :-P

Also, if your interest has been piqued by the post, don't let the lyrical phrasing fool you. His writing is described as:


"Burke's forte is his ability to create characters so evil they're liable to get you up in the night to check in your closet and under your bed."

"James Lee Burke can write some of the best scenes of violence in American literature."

Also, I couldn't help noticing that the reviews on Amazon were almost unanimous in stating that this is not JLB's best work--pretty much his worst (although it seems to be on par with talking about Laura Kinsdale's, Jenny Cusie's or Judith Ivory's worst)--and if you're going to give him a try, don't start with this book.

Is this post long enough? I think so.
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raine said...

He's writing prose like this--and it's not one of his better works??!

Amie Stuart said...

Sorry the egg yolk thing threw me!

Jaye said...

Raine, agreed. I'll be looking for his 'good' stuff afer I finish this book.

LOL. Ames. Maybe because it's out of context? But I honestly could see/ 'feel' the image he was going for there. There was someplace else where he describes mountains as 'biscuit' colored.

cyberoutlaw said...

I've read most of Burke's books, and in my opinion, he's the absolute best at this kind of writing. There's a fascinating juxtaposition between the beautiful writing and the remarkable evil that he describes. He has two series going. One featuring Dave Robicheaux, which takes place in Louisiana, and another one featuring Billy Bob Holland, that takes place in Montana. Robicheaux is my personal favorite, but both are very well done. Burke is one of a small group that has won the Edgar Award more than once.I'm sitting on my hands waiting for his new one to come out next month.

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