Re: RARA-AVIS: Stirring up trouble: Drowning / Ross MacDonald

Etienne Borgers (
Tue, 13 Jan 1998 18:56:41 +0800 (SGT) To answer Doug Levin's message on Ross MacDonald (see copy below) :

Please stir! I do not think R-A has to be a sleeping community...

I unfortunately have to agree with your statement: Ross MD is certainly one
of the most overrated author in HB.
I myself tried years ago to get trough his work, but really could'n't.
say that at best it is average; it practically always handles "psychological
novels" tones and descriptions that are used to explain everything and
everyone in the plots, added to lengthy and useless developments. Then these
endless family affairs...
From time to time a chapter exhibits some interesting form of writing but
most of the time it's "deja lu". This compared to some other authors
preceding RMD in time or publishing during the same period.
Maybe acceptable from very average writers, but deceiving for somebody
ranked amongst the *bests* in HB by lots of critics (or are they just
repeating the some old appreciation...?)
I was telling myself that I probably didn't read the very good novels of RMD...
But that was wishful thinking.
I relegate RMD on the third rank in my personal HB Pantheon.

Maybe the critic you are referring to for 'The New York Times' could have been
William Goldman? Goldman lauded RMD for his Archer series: "...the finest
series of detective novel ever written by an American " Good for him...

Maybe I could also stir a little now: You want a MacDonald? Then take John
D. MacDonald. Not for his colorful Travis Mc Gee series, but for his
previous writings harboring masterpieces. That's stirred... but not shaken!
Isn't it?


>All right, I'll stir up trouble to see if I can provoke some response.
>And I'll admit right off that my opinions are based on little sampling.
>1. I've only read a little Ross MacDonald, but he seems way overrated
>to me. I first thought he was going to be great because Joyce Carol
>Oates praises him so highly in her review of the Library of America
>Chandler (she implies, as I recall, that MacDonald improved on
>Chandler). I read part of _The Goodbye Look_, then put it aside. Maybe
>the mere confines of family squabble seem uniteresting to me. I've read
>the first fifty pages of _Drowning Pool_. It seems competent to me,
>with some good dialogue and descriptions. At the same time, it often
>seems badly stagey and contrived (e.g., Archer's hearing the long
>dialogue, with all the innuendo, etc., when he first arrives for the
>cocktail party). I have recently read that John Leonard wrote a piece
>in Esquire in 1976 about how two critics (at Time and [Leonard? at] the
>New York Times) conspired to do big stories on MacDonald, and it was
>only after that time that he rose in notoriety.

>Doug Levin

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