Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The novel develops according to a standard Leonard pattern: An ordinary, fundamentally good man gets caught up in a crime but eventually prevails over those who are greedy, evil, and amorally ambitious. What distinguishes Joe LaBrava is that when challenged, he cannot remain the dropout he had become and is impelled to involvement by a strong social conscience, romantic nature, loyalty to a friend, and innate curiosity. At the end, though, he is still merely a solitary freelance photographer, someone who has been in a peck of trouble but has emerged basically unchanged, although disillusioned, by his experiences. LaBrava is a fast-paced narrative with noteworthy verisimilitude, a result of Leonard’s keen ear for spoken language and his grimly realistic settings, whether a hotel inhabited by old widows or a county crisis center filled with alcoholics and assorted psychotics. Counterpointing and in contrast with this realism is the pervasive illusion theme, centered around the nostalgia enveloping Jean Shaw, whose words and actions are so intertwined with the film lines she spoke and roles she played years ago that there is no discernible boundary between make-believe and reality. Leonard suggests, though, that everyone needs illusions to survive, whether one is an aging film star or simply an ordinary old lady using Franny Kaufman’s Bio-Energetic Breast Cream. Even levelheaded Joe LaBrava has been sustained for twenty-five years by cinematic illusion, his...

(The entire section is 431 words.)