Night and Day

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NIGHT AND DAY, the new Jesse Stone novel, is so slight, you almost expect the words to evaporate from the white pages. I noticed the white because there's so much of it. I doubt there has ever been so much white space in a book before. The story is barely a sketch with a plot so thin it's practically non-existent. There isn't even a murder in the book…or a real mystery, as such. If anything, it's more of a vignette about Jesse, because the crimes, such as they are, aren't mysterious, involving, or interesting on their own. They aren't even felonies. The story doesn't even feel long or substantial enough to qualify as a novel, so think of it as a extended short story padded with lots of re-stating of information we already know and pages of rapid-fire banter, some of it clever, most of it quite familiar and tired (especially if you've read the Spenser novels). Which all leaves enough white space on the pages to write your own novel in the margins.

It was a pleasant diversion for a couple of hours, certainly not the worst Jesse Stone book (or the worst Parker), but far from the best. It was interesting, though, to contrast the book with the new, and wholly original, Jesse Stone movie that aired the other night. The movie was far better than any Stone novel in the last few years. Selleck and his team have the Parker voice down and managed to craft a much more interesting plot that felt true to the spirit of the early Stone novels. Parker remarked in a recent interview that he doesn't do any rewriting. It shows. 

17 thoughts on “Night and Day”

  1. I rushed to the store and bought NIGHT AND DAY the moment it was on the shelf…. Three hours later, I wondered why I’d done that. “Thin” is a good word for it. It was thinner, leaner, and less involving than that last Spenser novel, ROUGH WEATHER.
    Saw a blurb the other day for a Parker coming out in May: CHASING THE BEAR: A YOUNG SPENSER NOVEL. “Young Spenser”? Spenser as a boy? Ummmmmm….

  2. I think the Stone books (and Parker’s work as a whole) translate so well because there’s so little to them to screw up. There’s not much that you exactly have to pare back or simplify since he sort of just lays it out on the table for you. Stone’s a perfect fit for Selleck, also, at his age, and really everything focuses on character. Parker’s an amazingly lazy writer, and ones who have passed away in recent years who never stopped trying, and it’s sort of disheartening that they’re gone and Parker’s maligning his own legacy with each new book.

  3. Parker doesn’t do wholesale revisions anymore. This doesn’t make him a lazy writer. Of the four books he publishes per year, one or two of them are worthwhile reads (right now those seem to be the Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch books: APPALOOSA, RESOLUTION), which shows he still pushes himself now and then.
    Parker’s legacy is that he helped re-popularize P.I. fiction in the 1970s, along with writers like Bill Pronzini, Lawrence Block, Roger L. Simon, Stephen Greenleaf, Marcia Muller… I used to think he was hurting his legacy continuing as long as he has, but whatever he does in the present won’t change his most significant contribution to the genre: a protagonist as psychologically deep as he was physically tough. And where previous characters of the type had been loners, Spenser maintained his relationship with Susan Silverman as well as many friendships.
    Is a Parker book today as good as one from ten, twenty, or thirty years ago? No. But Parker still shows an economy with words that is distinctly his own. You hear it in the dialogue of Jesse Stone movies and Appaloosa. This is his legacy as well.
    Parker might be better thought of if he’d stopped writing at a higher point of fame, but the same can be said of anyone. Parker’s willingness to keep writing has earned him the right to dictate his own career path.

  4. “Parker doesn’t do wholesale revisions anymore. This doesn’t make him a lazy writer”
    Yes, it does. In fact, according to the article, he doesn’t do any revisions at all. I was taught that “writing is rewriting” and it’s very true. His books could definitely use another pass and some actual editing…though that might turn the books into short stories.
    I do agree with you about his three westerns — they are terrific. I was also fond of DOUBLE PLAY. I just wish his Spensers and Stones were better.
    Lee

  5. Replying to David J. Montgomery:
    I personally write multiple drafts, but some writers don’t. Some writers get blocked if they think too much about revising, and their finished products suffer. Parker makes this point in the interview linked in Lee’s post.
    How writers revise is akin to how they plot. Some outline and some wing it, and yet both outliners and “wingers” get books written.
    I’d like today’s Parker books to be tighter; I’d like the chapters to build to something larger instead of wrapping up so neatly; but that’s not how Parker works anymore. I’d rather read what he does produce than stymie him at this point in his career.
    That said, typically two of the four books he writes a year don’t interest me, and I buy the others as cheaply as I can.

  6. Exactly. Though I’ve only written movie reviews these past few weeks (I should get back to other writing), I make damn sure that it’s clear what I’m saying and it also makes a smidgen of sense. No writer writes well without rewriting.

  7. Incidentally, I do think Parker is lazy — at least unimaginative — not for his process, but for the similar themes and character dynamics of all his books: Spenser and Susan, Jesse and Jenn, Sunny and Richie, Virgil and Allie. Spenser and Hawk, Sunny and Spike, Everett and Virgil…
    The most creative leap Parker took was to make Jesse Stone younger and more flawed than Spenser and write Stone in third-person. Compared to the distinctly different series of Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake, Parker lags behind.
    How much is the responsibility of Parker’s editor? Is it lazy of him/her to apparently rubber-stamp his first drafts?

  8. Parker has been through this (awful) phase before and came out of it…though he did so by writing other books – like the Jesse Stone series. I refuse to purchase another Parker, unread, after his last Jesse Stone which may have had slightly less “white” on the page but was soooo awful.
    It must be horrible to need the money so bad that one will write anything..but how I wish Parker would take a hiatus from all writing until he real feels compelled to tell a story again. Until then I will wait for the library edition to be free.

  9. I don’t think Parker writes because he “needs” the money. The man’s made millions, so unless it’s going up his nose, he’s got to be loaded by this point.
    He writes what he does because he’s old and lazy and doesn’t give a shit anymore. Sure, we all wish he’d try harder and cut back on the output — but he’s laughing all the way to the bank.
    Who’s to say he’s wrong?

  10. Mr. So: Successful authors sometimes prevent editors from editing. Famously, Allen Drury, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Advise and Consent, prevented his editors from editing his novels. He paid the price. His stories grew more and more prolix, and he slid from best-seller to hack.

  11. Parker does it because he’s made his legacy and can get away with it. I like the Stone movies, but I didn’t care for the last one. It could be because it wasn’t Parker’s story, but I don’t know. I’ve never read a Parker novel. The closest I came was running into Robert Urich in the grocery store in Park City, Utah where we both lived at the time.
    “Oh. It’s Spenser.”

  12. I wouldn’t be surprised if Parker has blocked editing of his books. There’s no question he’s in decline, but the height of apathy and laziness would be to retire from writing. I think he cares to be known as someone who kept writing despite everything, including dropoffs in quality. He may not be the kind of writer who benefits from time off. As Peter wrote, taking on Jesse Stone and Virgil Cole in addition to Spenser got him through a rough patch in the mid-90s.

  13. I don’t know if this is a good book, but I do know it is terrific entertainment. I smiled almost all the way through, it raised my spirits so consistently. I read hearing Tom Selleck’s voice as Jesse and imagining his facial gestures and the experience was great — even more than great, unparalleled. And the chapters with the antagonist, the Night Hawk, were chilling and psychologically deep and felt true to me. So the bad reviews puzzle me.
    But then I read very slowly and savor a book as I read it. The character of Jesse Stone shines through almost every quip and in each chapter there is palpable interaction between the characters.
    If Mr. Parker’s writing is a bit thin on details regarding the setting, his work on character, plot and theme amazes me. But then I like Simenon too. It seems to me that Mr. Parker is the heir to Simenon rather than to Chandler, and seen from this angle, he’s good, really good, the best at it. Period. If you like that sort of stuff. Which I do.

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