About ten years ago, maybe more, I had to interview Lee Child on stage for the Melbourne Writers Festival. I did my homework, read about five of his books, wrote up a long list of questions and then some more questions in case he was less than generously wordacious in his responses. (Malcolm Knox once got caught on stage with Jonathan Franzen in a grunting one-word-answer mood and it is still whispered of among the scribbling class as one of the worst things that ever happened to anyone, ever.)
No problemo with Lee Child as it turned out. Dude loved to talk about himself and the tens of millions of books he’s sold. The hour passed pleasantly enough and he sold a couple more million books after the session. I probably moved two or three copies of whatever I was pimping at that particular moment, most likely to a couple of motherly blue rinse types who took pity on me.
One thing I did remember from reading all those Reacher books, however, was the way Reacher was always saying nothing.
Some shit happened. Reacher said nothing.
It’s a surprisingly powerful flex for a character to pull on the page, so I stole it for my own books, and then years later I read a whole academic essay about this singular non verbal tic for which Reacher is apparently very well know.
One thing I didn’t notice was all the shrugging that Reacher also does.
But someone noticed. And wrote this rather amusing bit for LitReactor.
Anyway, we get it, Lee Child, you're tall! 6' 4”, exactly one inch shorter than your literary avatar, and equal to two Tom Cruise’s in a trench coat. And you know what, when you're that tall, you probably have broad shoulders, right? And you know what you do with those shoulders?
You fucking shrug.
And, boy oh boy, do people in this book shrug! I don’t think anyone can really understand how much shrugging is happening in this book without experiencing it for themselves. This novel has all the shrugs. There are no more shrugs for anyone after this book. I think I started to notice all the shrugging about a third of the way through, so I started dog-earring the pages, and then later I went back to try and find them all, and I found even more. So there’s somewhere between 90 and a hundred shrugs in here. Is a hundred a lot of shrugs for a 300-page book? I honestly don’t know. But it sure felt like a lot of shrugs when it was happening. This book should have come with a jacket that it could shrug to the floor right before it kicks your ass. This book rolls its shoulders more than the Henley Rowing Regatta rowing team. Try it. Open it to any page and your odds are one in three that you’ll discover Jack Reacher is very, very tall and his shoulders are carrying the weight of a hundred bestsellers on them. Reacher has come here to shrug and chew bubblegum. And he’s all out of bubblegum.
I grinned like a loon all the way through this essay.
Which you can read here. It’s very funny.