Leon Uris: Life of a Best Seller

By Ira B. Nadel | Go to book overview
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8
“SHORT TITLES,
LONG BOOKS, BIG SALES”

Leon Uris is one of the best commercial storytellers among American writers.

—EXECUTIVE EDITOR, HARPERCOLLINS, 2005

FOLLOWING THE DEATH of Margery Edwards, Uris was lost. He went to Southern California for three weeks after the inquest to recover some balance, and then returned to Aspen. But resuming a writing life was difficult until his editor Ken McCormick flew out to encourage, cajole, and remind him that his readers were expecting a new work. This provided a much-needed focus.

Uris had by now perfected the Uris style, summarized in a Writer’s Digest article as “short titles, long books, big sales.”1 His novels of vivid prose and strong plots based on historical events became a popular staple. To enhance the drama, he included occasional superstars from the world stage: Charles de Gaulle (as Pierre La Croix in Topaz), David Ben-Gurion (Mitla Pass), Sir Winston Churchill (Redemption), and even Ernest Hemingway (Mitla Pass). The characters express themselves in terse, often stagy dialogue. Well-drawn, condensed settings form backdrops for an awkward treatment of romance, which is either sentimentalized or unintentionally caricatural, as when macho posturing replaces honest behavior. Characterization is conventional and undeveloped.

QB VII (1970), which was based on Uris’s own 1964 trial for libel in London, illustrates these features clearly. The suit, brought by Dr. Wladislaw Dering, had offended Uris’s sense of literary freedom and history, and the resulting novel combined the best aspects of Uris’s style. His own experiences provided the plot, while London and its grand history provided the setting:

Jesus, Solomon, and King Alfred rated status over the front entrance of the
Royal Courts of Justice, which fronted five hundred feet where the Strand
becomes Fleet Street at Temple Bar. These three were joined by twenty-four
lesser bishops and scholars.

Moses brought up the rear entrance on Carey Street, a block away. (QBVII,
273)

-193-

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