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Here was a man who had made fortynine movies and named a bunch of them earlier, when he was making coffee. Chili remembered having seen quite a few. The one about the roaches guy turns on the kitchen light, Christ, there’s a fuckin roach in there as big as he is. He had seen some of the Grotesque movies, about the escaped wacko who’d been in a fire and was pissed off about it. The one about the giant ticks trying to take over the earth. The one about all the people in this town getting scalped by an Indian who’d been dead over a hundred years, Hairraiser. … Forty-nine movies and he looked more like a guy drove a delivery truck or came to fix your airconditioning when it quit, a guy with a tool kit. When he’d gone over to the range to get the coffee in his shirt and underwear showing his white legs, skinny for a fat guy, he looked like he should be in detox at a booze treatment center. Chili had seen loan customers in this shape, ones that had given up. Harry’s mind seemed to be working okay, except all of a sudden he wasn’t as talkative as before. Harry has his own moments as well, but Chili’s quick portrait of a giant of American popular culture typifies the book. Leonard has no illusions about the trade he works in, and he has great fun letting Chili become the auteur of his own tale. Face-offs with hoodlums elide easily into story meetings, and the joke is that there doesn’t seem to be much difference. Even the narrative climax of the book, when the worst of the bad guys finally gets his, is literally staged and directed by one of the bad guy’s potential victims and the villian himself gets a nice moment of voiceover narration for his death scene. As a sendup of movie-making, Get Shorty is a sweet piece of work which should also make, should there be any justice in Hollywood, which there isn’t, a helluva movie. I pass out copies of Leonard’s novels like party favors, in the hopes that a few more people might experience the elation of a writer at the top of his game. His America of wiseguys, hustlers, and defiant ones, men and women like Chili who just won’t be messed with, is a tonic vision for those of us hoping for seams of vitality amid the deadrock. Draw a line through Chili to Leonard and then follow it on back to Mark Twain, the fine rich comic ore of our best and most rebellious literature. Mourning in America BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN AN AMERICAN LIFE By Ronald Reagan Simon & Schuster, 1990, 748 pages, $24.95 As though he were a sentry not merely 79 years or as though the weight of the entire world rested on his wrist, Ronald Reagan is fond of talking about what happened “on my watch.” James Watt, Ann Gorsuch, Rita Lavelle, and Samuel Pierce put time in on that watch. But, if the affable amnesiac remembers them, you would not know it from his autobiography, which omits any mention of them or most of the 240 other Reagan officials who faced ethics difficulties, according to a 1988 House subcommittee tally. Michael Deaver, Edwin Meese, and David Stockman are cited in passing, but not in reference to actions that embarrassed their boss. George Bush is a loyal acolyte, not the nasty rival who tried to knock Reagan out of the 1980 race with charges of “voodoo economics.” “I knew George would be a great President,” claims the man who delayed that presidency by eight years. Reagan disposes of another eight years, with actress Jane Wyman, in one sentence: “Our marriage produced two wonderful children, Maureen and Michael, but it didn’t work out, and in 1948 we were divorced.” An American Life is dedicated to the second wife Steven Kellman’s articles regularly appear in the Books and the Culture section of the Observer. about whom Ronald Reagan says, 123 pages into the proceedings, “Sometimes, I think my life really began when I met Nancy.” Though 748 pages long, the volume has no room for abortion, acid rain, AIDS, apartheid, Argentina’s desaparecidos, or astrology to list only the beginning of an alphabet of altercations during the Reagan years. “I’ve never been a great one for introspection or dwelling on the past,” admits the Great Communicator in the course of his booklength retrospection. Effusive in gratitude to writer Robert Lindsey, editor Michael Korda, and agent Mort Janklow, An American Life has the feel of a packaged deal, crafted by a publisher rather than an author. With single-sentence paragraphs and statements as brief as sound bites, the book reads like the transcription of interviews with a man who gives no evidence of having read a book after the Tarzan, Frank Merriwell, and Rover Boys series that he loved as the merry, small-town boy he never ceased to be. In the final weeks of his life, Ulysses S. Grant, whose administration was unparalleled in corruption until those of Harding and Reagan, wrote an incisive and moving autobiography that has rightly found a place alongside works by Melville, Wharton, Jefferson, and Faulkner in the canonical Library of America collection. An American Life, by the actor who became what he calls “the Errol Flynn of the B pictures,” is a B memoir, not nearly as informative or reflective as it could be. The book tells the Horatio Alger story of an unlikely journey from Dixon, Illinois, to Hollywood to Sacramento to Washington. Disappointed in his dream of managing the sports department at a local Montgomery Ward, plucky “Dutch” Reagan picked himself up and became a radio announcer, then a movie actor, then a governor, then 40th president of the United States. “If I could do this,” muses Ronald as he and Nancy move into the White House, “then truly any child in America had the opportunity to do it.” Part of the former president’s enduring childishness is his evident sincerity in that belief. “I believe, in general, people are inherently good and expect the best of them,” declares Reagan, as insouciant today as he was in 1985 when he visited Germany’s Bitburg military cemetery, oblivious to the abomination of honoring Nazi storm troopers who had chosen a brutal, racist mission. Celebrating his as An American Life, Reagan seems blithely ignorant of our butchery of Cherokees, Sioux, Filipinos, and others when he contends that “it must be clear to anyone that Americans were a moral people who starting at the birth of our nation had always used our power only as a force of good in the world.” For all his rhetoric about “the evil empire” and his delight in demonizing Democrats and Communists, Reagan seems as knowledgeable about evil as about how trees cause air pollution. Even in his private diary entries, he cannot conceive of hell or damnation, primly euphemizing the words as h l and d n. He is dispassionate, and brief, about his alcoholic father Jack and his defiant daughter Patti. Reagan speaks with more disappointment than bitterness toward Oliver North, whom he claims to have known “only slightly” and whose Iran-contra roguery he says he still wishes he understood. Reagan says he also knew Gerald Ford “only slightly” when the unelected president “offered me a choice of virtually any position I wanted in his cabi THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19