USA Midwest, Lee Child—Jack Reacher
I cannot say anything about Lee Child´s writing. He is one of the (many great) modern writers. But I can tell you about my own feelings when I read his novels, his thrillers.
The thing is that I relate easily to Jack Reacher, Child´s main character. For me he is the perfect “tourist.” He travels and takes in impressions as they come along. That is the way I love to travel, eager to see something new.
Lee Child is the perfect “tourist.” A tourist is a person of immense curiosity. Child was born in England, but most of his stories take place in the USA. As a perfect “tourist” he looks in awe at new vistas with the eyes of a child. Although he places sinister happenings in the towns and cities he visits, Child must have been happy getting to know those places or he could not spend so much time describing them in detail. He works like a painter in front of a canvas.
Reacher hitchhikes or takes Greyhound buses. It is not a very sophisticated way to travel, some might think, but it is relaxed. I have traveled from Colorado to New Mexico and from Pittsburgh to New York with Greyhound, but I have never hitchhiked. It is not so dangerous for a man, especially if he is more than six feet and weighs over 200 pounds like Jack Reacher.
Somewhere Child calls Jack Reacher a “drifter”. I do not think I am a drifter. For several years I drove along the Atlantic Coast just to be able to breathe. I drove along the Atlantic Coast from Key West to the Canadian border. But I had a goal. I drove in the direction away from where the “early trees” were not blooming. I was avoiding pollen that I feared would finally make it impossible for me to breathe. My health was poor with allergies and asthma haunting my frightened soul. But I was lucky. I could get away from the allergens. I took my car and drove away from them. Maybe I was a drifter then for a while. Just like Reacher.
There are no colors really in Child´s novels. They are grey. There are shadows and mist and gloom, night, but also sun. When I read about Child´s sun I add yellow and orange, but that is not his intent I believe. There is brightness and there is dawn. A modern grey novel. I mean that for me it seems that the New World is black or grey.
In Die Trying he has the following color: peach color. The lady who we hope would stay with Reacher forever has a peach-colored expensive Italian suit. She has a high post in Washington and spends lots of money on clothing. There are glimpses of a blue sky occasionally, but not many times through the book. And there is the green truck with a ton of dynamite on a desolate road in the sparely populated mountains out west.
How can I, a colorist and artist find myself so at home in Lee Child´s novels that are grey, more or less? Lee Child gives the answer himself when he describes as genius being in the details. I like genius. And Child´s novels are built up with details that draw the reader into the action. The reader is part of the story.
I believe I can relate to Lee Child´s Reacher the most when he travels across the Midwest of the USA, living very simply, taking a room at a small town´s only hotel. And that hotel room is in no way fancy—just the way I did when fighting for my own health. But I think that what echoes in me when I follow Jack Reacher is the farmland in the US Midwest and the emptiness in the large landscapes. Those wide scenes place me back to my childhood and summers that I spent in the Swedish countryside at different homes and farms, belonging to family. To get to them the Ford we travelled in passed wide fields and through large forests. Only now and then I saw a farmhouse, just the way Jack Reacher sees farmhouses on the Plaines. Although I was only a child, and although there lingers in me memories of a sunlit orange countryside, I today pick up a feeling of loneliness and melancholy that is a residue of impressions from my childhood summers. Odd enough it feels good for me, although Child describes landscapes in murky weather. It touches a nerve in me.
Jack Reacher crisscrosses the US, describes the sites he visits in detail, and lets us follow him, which I happily do. Over the last 60 years, I have visited 43 US states and lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Colorado, and Florida. I have spent so much time in Manhattan, so I canalmostsay I have lived there and the same with California. I love to follow Jack Reacher to US states I feel I know so well.
Reading one of Child´s thriller novels, I sort of took a helicopter trip—together with Jack Reacher— to Chicago and Washington D.C. and spent some time in both cities, cheerfully going back in my memory to wonderful days in both cities over fifty years. Reading Child´s novel was a tourist trip to the Midwest (and D.C.).
I do not read the fighting scenes. Sometimes I skip to the last page of such a scene to see who survives and then I go back and hastily read a few words in paragraph after paragraph to see what happened. The martial arts scenes must be great in the movies, but I read Child for his description of places.
I like the modern world. We are so lucky. We can try on innumerable Personae through our lifetime. As children we copy the grown-ups like children always have done, but as adults there is no limit to people or situations we can copy and learn from. It is as if we are trying on shirts, pants, jackets in the dressing room of a clothing store. When we stand in the irritatingly long checkout line in the grocery store we enter famous peoples’ lives for split seconds and take on and live their lives subconsciously, approving or disliking their behavior. Those moments are travels into different worlds. So are of course all the movies and books that open places where we can experience other lives in our minds for a short spell.
This is what the modern world has done for “everyman” during the last hundred years or so and I am one who is enormously grateful.
And I can take on different personae when traveling. I can be a tourist, with eyes open in awe over new unexpected aspects of life or I can be a traveler, intent on a goal, a study of something or a business appointment.
Now I am starting to read one more Lee Child book, Tripwire. Jack Reacher is in wonderful Key West. That will be another vacation trip for me as a tourist.
Have a great day