Top critical review
Better waltz right past this dance!
on January 12, 2003
Elmore Leonard has been called "the greatest crime writer of our time, perhaps ever" and "a contemporary Dashiell Hammett." The author of more than three dozen books, including Tishomingo Blues, Pronto, Riding the Rap, Out of Sight, Rum Punch, and Get Shorty, Leonard is a Grand Master Award winner of the Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.,. a suburb of Detroit.
When the Women Come Out to Dance, Leonard's second collection of short stories (the first was The Tonto Woman & Other Western Stories), features nine cut-to-the-chase adventures populated by one-dimensional characters.
The British philosopher Bertrand Russell, in a reductionist mood, suggested that only one thing is necessary for a person to be happy: "How can you fail to enjoy life so long as the glands are in good working order? That is the only secret."
The characters in When the Women Come Out to Dance should be quite happy, for they are obsessed with glands (instant sex on demand) and guns (whether six-shooters or shotguns). Reeking with sex and violence, the stories deal with hot-blooded characters eager to "make love" and "make war."
Two of the best stories are also the longest: "Fire in the Hole" (56 pages) describes a cell of racist skinheads in Harlan County, Kentucky, and "Tenkiller" (60 pages) describes a family of white-trash squatters In Okmulgee, Oklahoma. The remaining seven tales average 16 pages each.
Here's a sample paragraph from "Fire in the Hole": "Gator teeth, spiked hair dyed blond and a tattoo on his chest, part of it showing the way his shirt hung open. He stood there looking Raylan over before saying, 'Who in the hell are you, the undertaker?'"
Leonard, whose no-nonsense style of writing reminds one of Hemingway, believes that authors should go easy on the adverbs (never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"); keep their exclamation points under control; never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose"; never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue; use regional dialect, patois, sparingly; avoid detailed descriptions of characters; and don't go into great detail describing places and things.
All of this is well and good, if one wants to make short shrift of psychological development and philosophical depth. While Leonard's stuff is tailor-made for guts-gonads-and glory films, his characters are one-dimensional and without soul.
Reading this book is a lot like eating cotton candy: tasty but without substance. If action fluff is your cup of tea (or confection), by all means read and enjoy. But if you're looking for quality literature that is enduring rather than ephemeral, better skip this one.