Elmore Leonard has made his mark in two distinct, but related, genres of popular fiction, mysteries and westerns. At least, that’s how his books tend to be classified in the public mind. By that classification, The Big Bounce would not really fit in either category. The “extras” section of the Perfectbound e-book edition (also from HarperCollins) that I read contains as “extras” section with lists, essays and interviews which indicates that the author sees his work a bit differently.
In his eyes the “mysteries” are simply “crime novels”, and when you look at it that way, this 1969 book fits right in. The Big Bounce looks like it was Leonard’s move out of being just a genre western writer. He’s flipped back and forth a few times since, but this book is clearly a product of its time and place rather than an excursion into history.
There’s no mystery here. Jack Ryan would rather have been a baseball player, but his back won’t let him. In a series of flashbacks we learn of his gradual drift into a life of petty crime and his adoption of a tough guy attitude. He’ll won’t take guff from anyone and that’s what gets him fired from a migrant work gang he’s fallen in with.
A local hotel owner, Walter Majestyk, hires him as a handy man. We get the impression that Majestyk doesn’t like Jack’s ex-boss and sees something worth salvaging in Jack. But this is not a story about redemption, so that’s a bit of a red herring.
Then there’s Nancy, a young, apparently amoral young woman who has parlayed her looks into a comfortable position as a older man’s mistress, but who lacks adventure in her life. She’s always looking for what she calls “the bounce”, and she soon decides that the biggest bounce of all would be to seduce Jack into helping her steal $50,000 from her sugar daddy.
Or is that what she actually wants? Events later in the story are enough to make you think that she may always have had a still bigger bounce in the back of her mind. If you like tidy endings, this is not a book for you.
As you can see from the book cover show here, The Big Bounce has been made into a film recently - due out this month apparently. The Internet Movie Data Base describes it as “A comedy about taking a chance on paradise” and tells us that Owen Wilson will be playing Jack. The trailer at Apple.com shows me a movie that is only marginally connected to the book: different state, different backgrounds, different time, totally different tone.
The book reminded me of James M. Cain’s work, stories like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. An accurate film treatment would be film noir in style.