Thursday, May 05, 2011

What does literary "influence" mean?

Larry McMurtry's introduction to the NYRB edition of Georges Simenon's Monsieur Monde Vanishes is all about the urge to disappear and start a new life, but it does not mention the Flitcraft parable from The Maltese Falcon.

The omission is odd because McMurtry does cite other literary parallels. I don't necessarily suggest that Hammett influenced Simenon, but I'd be curious about McMurtry's reason for the omission. (The Maltese Falcon predates Simenon's novel by sixteen years, in case you're wondering.)
***
The estimable Brian Lindenmuth said of Wallace Stroby's novel Cold Shot to the Heart: "Imagine a Parker novel if Parker was a woman," and I won my copy in a contest on the Violent World of Parker Web site. Indeed, Stroby inscribed the book: "To Peter, who really knows his Richard Stark [the pen name under which Donald Westlake wrote the Parker novels]."

The novel opens mid-heist, as do the middle-period Parker novels, and some of its middle chapters open in mid-action ("When ...), like the early Parkers.  Thing is, the book doesn't feel much like a Parker.

Its heister-on-the-run plot feels more like a tale of doomed lovers on the run (though protagonist Chrissa's lover is in prison, she doesn't mean to leave him there), and the story tugs at the heartstrings in ways Stark never did.  And it is to Stroby's considerable credit that the two biggest heartstring-tuggers work nicely as plot elements, one of them especially so. The book may yank at your heart, but it won't insult your mind.

Stroby has undoubtedly read his Richard Stark, but his novel, for all its surface similarities, feels very different from Stark's books. And that leads to today's question: What do you mean when you say, "Author or Book A influenced Author or Book B"? In what ways does one author or book influence another?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brian Lindenmuth would be a lot more estimable if he had a command of the subjunctive. You of all people, Peter, should take him to task.

May 06, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Maybe McMurtry didn't like Hammett. Stranger things have happened, Peter.

I would expect that any linking of two authors would rest on acknowledged fact. In other words, did Simenon say he admired Hammett greatly and was influenced by him?

Otherwise, keep in mind that such a suggestion can imply that author # 2 needed help, that he couldn't come up with original stuff.

May 06, 2011  
Blogger Dana King said...

Is it possible McMurtry hasn't read THE MALTESE FALCON?

Authors can be influenced by others in more ways than we can count. It could be the type of story, or the style of writing. It could be something that jars a resolution to a plot point or a setting. It seems a cop-pot, but a writer may be influenced by everything he reads, for better or worse, or even if it's just learning some things to avoid.

Leave it to an anonymous commenter to be snarky. never fails.

May 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anonymous, I esteem him for what he has to say about books. I shall chastise him for his quirky use of grammar, preferably in person and with a baseball bat.

May 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., yes, McMurtry may not like Hammett. It's also possible that he did not find the Flitcraft story, a small fragment of a novel, all that similar to Simenon's book, which spins the theme out for 172 pages. But McMurtry does cite Camus' The Stranger, observing that it and Simenon's novel share "certain characteristics" and enumerating these without, however, documenting links between the two writers. And really, I was suggesting nothing more than that about Simenon and Hammett: that Hammett had famously and explicitly addressed the very theme of McMurty's introduction (which opens "The urge to vanish is common"), so it was odd that McMurtry did not mention the connection.

He also may simply have been trying not to cram too much into a four-and-a-half page introduction and decided that Camus is more suitable than Hammett for an edition from New York Review of Books.

May 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, yes, it's possible that McMurtry might never have read The Maltese Falcon.

And an author may be influenced by another without ever having read his or her work, of course, if that author's influence has pervaded the culture.

May 06, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Has Hammett pervaded American culture? I didn't know.

May 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

There's no doubt that he has. He's the father of the fictional private eye and of the hard-boiled story. And that means he has influenced popular culture well beyond the U.S. as well, both directly and through his more-imitated successor Raymond Chandler.

May 07, 2011  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

I'm the product of the Baltimore school system. What can I say.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Say on, wise man. Stick around long enough, and you may get the last laugh. Linguists say the subjunctive is slipping slowly from the English language anyhow.

May 08, 2011  

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