The Brothers Grant
Janet Maslin has been raving about Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels for years, so it’s not that surprising to me she’s switched from an outright review of GONE TOMORROW to a hybrid profile of the author and his 14-years-younger brother, Andrew Grant, whose own debut EVEN hit bookstores earlier this week:
debut novel by Mr. Child’s baby brother, Andrew. While GONE TOMORROW and EVEN leave no doubt about which of these writers is the rock star
and which the tyro, the books overlap in ways sure to raise interest in
the family’s DNA. The plot and style similarities are that much more
remarkable considering that Jim and Andrew grew up barely knowing each
other because of their age disparity. (Jim was the second child and
Andrew the fourth; two other brothers are scientists, not thriller
writers; their father’s work as a tax inspector emphasized keen
observational skills.) “We never lived together as brothers,” Mr. Child
said about his and Mr. Grant’s adult rapport (both were reached by
telephone earlier this week); “It’s more or less like finding a friend.”
But since Maslin clearly seems more comfortable talking about the books than to the authors, it’s also not a surprise she has a lot to say, especially about GONE TOMORROW. This particular comment stuck out: “GONE TOMORROW winds up taking the Reacher franchise to a wild extreme. That this
Reacher is so effortlessly larger than life is evidence of how intense
the overall series has become.”
I find that comment to be almost diametrically opposite to my own reaction, which is that GONE TOMORROW was the first Reacher novel where I thought he was showing his age. Not that he’s slowed a step, or that the intensity Maslin refers to has diminished, but more that the balance between reacting physically and mentally has shifted ever so incrimentally from the former to the latter. Not to mention that exchanges like this fix the Reacher universe in time in a way I wasn’t aware of until now:
"In 1984," I said.
"Then those events of 1982 and 1983 were all before your time."
"Only just," I said. And there is such a thing as institutional memory."
Combine that with comments like “we were four months ahead of the first primaries and fourteen months ahead of the elections themselves” and now we’re aware, yet again, that Reacher has left youth far behind him, and the window of time he has left to kick physical ass will diminish over time – even if future books play the time compression game.
Yet instead of being a disadvantage, an aging Reacher actually opens up the series to further storytelling possibilities. What if violence is off the table for an entire book? What if the books venture that much more into psychological mindgame territory? And while Ali Karim’s question about whether there are potential illegitimate offspring running around is tongue-in-cheek, it does invite the prospect of exploring the ramifications of past deeds in a more meaningful way -or, shocker of shocks, the prospect of a Reacher novel lacking in romantic liasons entirely.
This isn’t to say I’m expecting REACHER REDUX or REACHER AT REST anytime in the future; after all, someone like Jack Reacher is exactly who someone like Rabbit Angstrom wishes he could be like – decisive, transient, beholden to no one and nobody – even as he’s not-so-secretly contemptuous of such an existence. But if Reacher’s given a chance, however small, to come to terms with getting older, the brain/brawn ratio, I hope, will tip further towards the brain as the series goes on – adding additional psychological complexity to a series that already has quite a lot more than many people realize.
UPDATE, 5⁄19: Lest you think that my analysis of GONE TOMORROW is needlessly hifalutin, along comes exhibit B in the bid to take Reacher and Lee Child more seriously by LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan. I admit I was taken aback by his comparison of Reacher to Parker (John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee and Alistair MacLean’s protagonists seem more accurate antecedents) but Turan’s right about this: “Parker was too much of a nihilistic career criminal to be anything but
an antihero, but without him the more conventionally heroic Jack
Reacher might not have existed.”
And Turan’s definitely right about this: “One of the great conceits of the Reacher novels, however, is here in
force and that is the tendency of the folks he deals with to
consistently underestimate him. Unlike Sherlock Holmes or Paul Temple,
Reacher is not known to the criminal world, and the bad guys are always
telling him, “Stay away from this,” “You’re out of your depth” and the
ever-popular “You got lucky.” You want to scream at them, “This is Jack
Reacher for pity’s sake, he’ll eat you for breakfast!” He will, you
know, and that’s why we keep coming back for more.” Indeed, that’s why we do.