I loved this Elmore Leonard novel, easily my favorite of the Leonard books that I have read, and part of the reason that I loved it was because I could imagine teaching it. It has the layers that make a book fun to teach, particularly with middle and high school students.
It has a fast-moving plot that makes its 200 or so pages flash by – even though Leonard is playful with the novel’s structure, the narrator telling us that there may be other versions of this story but that his version is the truth. There are economically and wonderfully etched characters, all highly believable, all flawed in some manner. The taciturn protagonist John Russell: Are his actions driven simply by self-preservation, or is there some underlying goodness to what he aims to do, even amidst the hate and discrimination that’s heaped upon him? And there are thoughtful, discussion-worthy themes, such as the issues of identity and the past and attempts to escape/hide from both. The book’s last 20 or so pages could fuel thoughtful discussion in sophomore English for a week.
For several years, when I was in my full-of-myself 20s, I thought the sort of books that Elmore Leonard wrote were not worth reading. They were dreck, not worth the time. Better to trudge through Hardy’s Jude the Obscure – and be bored stiff – than read something that might be more – dare I say – pleasurable. Well, thank goodness that past is behind me – way, way behind me – and thank goodness for books like Hombre, books that are both thrilling and thoughtful. My next read? Leonard’s Valdez is Coming.