Out of Sight Analysis
by Elmore Leonard

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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Leonard takes the conventions of the traditional heist novel and combines them with the traditions of the romance. The novel is also very cinematic; there are 96 quick scenes within the approximately 300 page novel. Dialogue and action carry the plot. There is minimal exposition, and even then in each scene the reader sees the action through a single character's point of view; Leonard's oeuvre has always insisted there be no authorial intrusion.

Leonard begins with the conventions of the crime genre, then confounds them. As in much genre fiction for instance, many scenes in Out of Sight end with a question that demands a detailed answer. Naturally the reader must read on to discover the answer to that question. This technique helps make some published novels into "page-turners." But Leonard does not work from an organized plot. He likes to make the story up as he goes along. He begins with two characters and a situation. Once he begins, he completes each scene before moving on to the next. As a consequence, much of the time characters are wondering what will happen next, where their actions and the actions of other characters—often unseen or unknown to them—will lead. That tension is felt within the characters themselves. As Foley says to Karen, "How far do we go with this?" This technique rivets the reader to the page.

Another Leonard trademark is that his characters are often conscious of the irony of their situations. In a few instances in his long and productive career, Leonard's story line has drifted away from its core situation, and the reader almost becomes impatient. But Leonard is an adept storyteller, a professional whose skills have been honed by almost fifty years of commercial writing, and the reader here is never distracted or lost. In this novel, the ex-magician's assistant Adele tells Karen Sisco that how illusions are made should be kept secret. "It's the way they're done, that's what it's all about. How isn't that interesting." Leonard is the real magician in Out of Sight.

Appearances can be deceptive in Out of Sight. For instance, Foley impersonates a prison guard to help his escape from the prison. When Buddy spots him exiting the escape tunnel, Foley stops, "taking his time now to put on a show, standing with his hands on his hips like an honest-to- God hack, that serious cap down on his eyes." Foley later impersonates a tourist in a beach outfit. On their way north Foley and Buddy will stop for secondhand clothes at a Jewish Recycling Center, and the two men will play dress-up. Karen pretends she is Buddy's friend from Miami to his sister in Los Angeles to pump her for information on the fugitives' whereabouts. Because Foley piggybacked his escape on top of his, Chino sees Foley "as a liar pretending to be a friend." Later he calls and visits Foley's ex-wife Adele, pretending to be "Manuel the Mayishan" from Cuba.

Out of Sight plays with many types of deceptions, even those done by professional magicians, tricks like cutting a woman in half, or the girl in the cage who becomes a tiger. Most of the characters hide behind sunglasses, even at night, or in dimly lighted rooms, and even during a snowstorm.

Aware of such deceptions, Leonard's characters carefully measure each other. Attitude is important, in Leonard's world. Karen never underestimates Foley, "the con acting cool, nothing to lose." Meeting Maurice and his cronies at the Kronk Recreation Center in Detroit "took Foley back to the (prison) yard, sizing each other up, making judgments that could mean somebody's life. Foley didn't look at the big white guy, but kept staring at the Snoop he remembered as all show, had the moves, the weaves, the head fakes when he wasn't even near his opponent, doing that little jive skip and touching a glove to his head." Maurice translates "being cool" to being in control of the situation. And the world of Leonard, much like the world inside Kronk's gym, is a world of fighters, pretend fighters and posers. Also, men pose for...

(The entire section is 3,816 words.)