Thursday, August 1, 2013

The three worlds of Elmore Leonard's 'Raylan'

By Elmore Leonard
(William Morrow)

Justified, Seasons 1-4
(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

     As I have previously mentioned, Raylan Givens, the protagonist of the FX TV show Justified, originated in a couple of novels and a novelette by Elmore Leonard, but the TV Raylan is not slavishly consistent with the literary Raylan. So when Leonard came out with a new novel about Raylan Givens, I wondered which Raylan it would be.
     Turns out, he's neither. Raylan takes place in a third universe with some similarities to both earlier versions. It also has some plot points that were used in the third and fourth seasons of Justified, leading me to believe that Leonard gave the TV showrunner a copy of the manuscript (or at least the broad plot), and said something like, "Feel free to use any of this that you want."
     Unlike with the literary Raylan, his ex-wife Winona is a court reporter and still living in Harlan County, Kentucky and, unlike the TV Winona, still married to a real estate guy. Boyd Crowder, Raylan's sometime friend and foe, survived the events of the short story "Fire in the Hole" like the TV Boyd, but without the exact same checkered career he has had on the TV show.
     The novel is somewhat episodic, merely covering a certain period of time in Harlan County, rather than having a single overall story arc or plot. It contains in-jokes (for instance, there's a character named Valdez, so someone -- Raylan? -- says, "Valdez is coming," the name of a Leonard western) and a lot of dropped g's -- somethin instead of something (or somethin', which my copy editor's soul insists is the correct usage).
     I read the book quickly, and more or less enjoyed it, but I couldn't help feeling that Leonard wrote it as quickly -- maybe too quickly -- and also enjoyed it. It feels unfinished, incomplete, like something not meant to be published as a novel but as notes or a guideline for a TV series or film.
     I was reminded of The Third Man, a film by Carol Reed and Graham Greene that Greene first wrote as a novel, though not one meant for print. The popularity of the film resulted in the novel being published after all,  but it was not as polished as Greene's usual work, and contained significant differences from the finished film. One was the improvised line Orson Welles says to Joseph Cotten before they part at the Ferris wheel, and another is the ending; in the book, Cotten does get the girl.
      I did like Raylan, but not as much as I liked Pronto (the novel that introduced Raylan Givens) or as much as I generally like episodes of Justified. Again, it occupies a separate reality, an alternate universe. It just tries too hard to have a foot in each of the other universes, too.


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