Jack Reacher: a long way from Virginia

Will Jack Reacher ever get to Virginia? That’s the burning question.

Lee Child’s novel 61 Hours (March, 2010) opens with Reacher being involved in a bus accident in the middle of a South Dakota winter. Reacher, a former major in the military police, has, as I pointed out in my post “Jack Reacher, Wandering Taoist” no home and travels constantly across the United States, with nothing but the clothes on his back and a toothbrush. His theory is that buying new clothes every fourth day is way cheaper than a mortgage and laundry facilities.) He either hitches rides or takes a bus.

He sets off at the end of 61 Hours, having managed to figure out the truth about what was down there in that strict time frame. Of course, he did, although you might, like me, have entertained the idea that he had vanished in the final mayhem. You could have guessed he would uncover the truth, so it isn’t exactly a spoiler. How could he not? He’s Jack Reacher huge of body and mind, expert in hand to hand combat and pretty good with a rifle. Why is he bound for Virginia? A woman’s voice is luring him there, the voice of a woman major, the voice that helped him through.

Worth Dying For (October 2010) finds Reacher in the corn country of Nebraska, a day or so later, having hitched a ride and ended up in a kind of feudal kingdom where most people keep their heads down and try not to remember the child who vanished many years ago. Reacher gets hooked once again and stays to help the woman who has the courage to stand up against the local oppressor.

The Affair (September 2011) doesn’t advance the journey to Virginia because it is a flashback to Reacher’s adventures in 1997.

But this fall, along came A Wanted Man, which finds Reacher still in wintry Nebraska with the broken nose he got the day before, but it was worth it presumably, since it was Worth Dying For. Given that he has taped his nose up with silver duct tape, it is surprising that he managed to get a ride, but now he’s dropped off at a cloverleaf. He waits there in the bitter cold as car after car slows, takes a look at his size and his smashed-up face and speeds away. Finally, he tears off the duct tape and after 93 bitterly cold minutes gets picked up by a car with three people, wearing identical, ill-fitting blue shirts and claiming to be business cohorts returning from a conference. Reacher thinks things are not as they seem. He is right.

Jack Batten in his review in the Toronto Star, Sunday November 5, 2012, says “What follows adds up to the most satisfying of all 17 thrillers in the series. The secret to its superiority is a matter of pace. The unfolding of events nudges along at just the right pace -deep into the book – things speed up as Reacher pulls toward an authentically gripping climax.”

Reacher makes it into Kansas at one point, but then has to back track to where he first caught the ride. By now his nose is beginning to heal and in the end, he is back at the side of the road, looking for a lift to a bus station where he can get a bus for VIrginia. And no that woman there has not aged greatly – it’s only been a few days in Reacher time.

Just as addendum: Lee Child was in my town and in answer to a question, saw nothing wrong with Tom Cruise playing Reacher in the movie, One Shot. Dismayed listeners cited height. Didn’t seem to bother Lee Child that Cruise, who is shorter than most of his wives, should play 6 ft. 5 in. Jack. Well, fine, but I will watch that movie only if it is the last one on earth and I need the distraction.

How I Developed ‘Low Tastes’ in Reading

For many years I was a reading snob. Certain kinds of books were just beneath my notice. What can I say? I couldn’t help it. I majored in English literature.

Initially, I just read everything I could get my hands on adventure, romance, historical fiction. As a teenager, I worked as a ‘page” in a library, ‘carding’ returned books and shelving them. (In those days, you could actually tell who had borrowed that book before you by their signatures on the card in the pocket inside the cover.) I carted home huge piles of books, the maximum allowable. I read all the 19th century British novels I could find and then 20th century Americans. I would choose an author like Bernard Shaw and just strip-mine his work and then I would move on to biographies about him. Clearly, there was either no television in those days or there was nothing good on.

Eventually, I was too busy balancing motherhood and teaching to read that much and anyway television got better. I still bought the latest work by Margaret Atwood or Margaret Lawrence or Robertson Davies and Alice Munroe. I was a great Can Lit supporter. (That’s Canadian Literature to the rest of the world.) Atwood had written a book called Survival in which she said that the central theme in all Canadian novels was survival. She could be right, I thought, and I was getting tired of that grimness. Anyway reading had become more of a special event than an obsession, mostly carried out in the half hour before I put my head down to sleep.

The ‘best’ novels began to pall, mainly because I was teaching them. Over and over and over. I knew 1984 and Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Lord of the Flies and Catcher in the Rye by heart. Reading David Copperfield or Jane Eyre or even beloved Wuthering Heights began to have as much appeal for me as water boarding. And so I took my first step down that slippery slope. I started reading fantasy.

I blame J.R.R. Tolkein. One summer when I commuted to a job marking exam papers, an exercise in brain torture if ever there was one, I buried myself in The Fellowship of the Ring before the train left the station and stayed mercifully oblivious until I got off. The really wonderful thing about this book was that it was the first book in a trilogy. Besides the best reviewers approved of Tolkein and his buddy, C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, beginning with Out of the Silent Planet and the Narnia books.

Having given myself permission to read fantasy, I carried on. I read all the books by Carlos Castaneda who vowed that his teachings of don Juan were strictly factual. I entertained the idea that with the requisite spiritual training, I too could fly across canyons. It was a close as a person of my generation got to L.S.D. Eventually, I took up Ursula K. Le Guin who wrote several series and inevitably Harry Potter. I am tempted to blame that on grandchildren, but it wouldn’t be true. Then J.K. Rowland stopped writing.

For a time, I belonged to a book club, five women who met at each others’ houses once a month and talked about a given book. We read The Kiterunner and Saturday, Reading Lolita in Tehran and Ravelstein. We read Booker prize winners, spare, mannered tomes like On Chesil Beach, The Gathering and Banville’s The Sea.  Several members revolted and in response we read In the Company of a Courtesan. In the end, I didn’t want to have my reading assigned to me and I didn’t want to have to go back over the book to find points for discussion. Most of all, I hated the discussion questions that some books now included at the back. True I had taught English but I couldn’t come up with the first thing to say in response to such questions as “Does old age always harden beliefs?”

One day a friend told me she was reading a mystery set in Italy by Donna Leon. This friend was a notorious snob about reading, so I took this as permission granted. I had been reading reviews of mysteries for years, so I knew where to start: P.D. James, Ruth Rendall and Elizabeth George, so called cozy mysteries, set in England, a substantial body of work separately and several years of reading altogether. Then I moved on to Henning Mankell’s Swedish Detective Wallender and Ian Rankin’s Scots Detective Rebus. They were both heavy drinkers, divorced, the father of daughters and singularly morose. Must be the North  Sea influence. It turned out that there were other Swedish detectives – Edwardson’s Eric Winter and Steig Larsson’s computer whizz with the dragon tattoo, as well as Icelandic detectives (Arnaldur Indridason’s), Canadian detectives not to mention American detectives and pathologists.

At a certain point my sister joined me – actually at the cozy mystery stage- and we agree that some are better than others. I like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books because they are set in Los Angeles and I recognize the settings, but we agree that his books are not as good as some. Such mysteries or police procedurals are written to formula, but it’s a good formula: a detailed and realistic setting that makes us feel as if we have been there, a puzzle to solve, and clues that make the final outcome believable. The reader can be confident of a certain kind of good read. Then from book to book in a detective series, we follow the detective’s character arc.

It was when we embarked on our current Lee Child marathon that I began to worry. Child’s hero is Jack Reacher, a former U.S. military policeman, in his own words, more of a brawler than a warrior, who travels across the country with nothing but a folding toothbrush, encountering dire situations and resolving them by his own means. Searching for a new Reacher book, I discovered they were not shelved in the mystery section and this was because they were classified as thrillers.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen! And I had to admit, not only that the average mystery caused a little uptick in adrenaline, but also that Lee Child’s books are so positively charged that they are addictive.

Right now I am nearing the end of his second last book, The Affair, set in Mississippi in 1997, earlier than all of the others but one. In it, we learn why he is no longer a serving major, be-medalled though he was.

Is there a reader’s hell supervised by an old-fashioned librarian with a pitchfork just waiting to catch me in my fall?