Monday, January 14, 2013
The Modern Curse of the Doorstop Thriller
I've went off here before on the subject of how annoyed I get about monstrously long thrillers, so I'll spare you a full-on rant this time. But there are a few things I want to say about it yet...
When I'm perusing the book store shelves, I tend to skip right past those wrist-straining Doorstop Thrillers because it's been my experience that most of them are exactly what you'd expect: over-long, full of padding and extemporaneous detail, uninteresting internal monologues and info-dumps.
However, I've had to acknowledge that SOME of them are quite good. I've read a couple by Dennis Lehane that I really liked, and that didn't feel bogged down with needless bullshit. Also, not long ago, a friend lent me a book by Micheal Connelly called NINE DRAGONS that surprised me. And of course, there's James Ellroy (although, to be fair, I don't consider Ellroy a "thriller writer"-- his books are more like Sprawling Historical Crime Epics).
But I still maintain that, for the most part, the Doorstop Thriller is a bane on my reading pleasure. I can see almost NO reason that a thriller needs to be over, say, 300 pages long. Monster-size paperbacks, in a way, go against the very definition of "thriller". Initially, the thriller was a book meant to be read in one or two or three sittings, something to keep you reading late into the night, turning the pages feverishly. Something to, you know, THRILL you.
Last week, I was giving another Doorstop Thriller a go (never mind which one), and I was about 100 pages into it when my wife asked, "So what's happened so far in that book?" I paused, thinking for a moment, then answered truthfully, "Well... nothing, really." About fifteen characters had been introduced, a whole bunch of back-story had been spelled out, and a whole lot of nothing had happened. It was all decently-written, mind you, but... it was stuck in neutral.
Like many other Doorstop Thrillers, it would've been a decent read if it was, say, HALF the length.
I tossed the book and went to find something else to read.
It's not that I'm impatient. In fact, I have a pretty extraordinary ability to concentrate and let things play out. And it's also not that I don't think bigger themes can fit within the context of a thriller-- they most certainly can. But rule number one is: Make Things Happen.
And yet Doorstop Thrillers top all the best-seller charts. You rarely see a thriller less than 600 pages on the NYT Best Seller List. I don't know why. Perceived value? If you have any ideas about that, feel free to share.
In the meantime, I'll stick with those classic-style thrillers that are short, sharp, and unnerving. The kind that actually THRILL you.
In the words of my friend Christian Klaver-- Stick and move, man. Stick and move.