RARA-AVIS: Ambivalent About Ross Macdonald?

J. Kingston Pierce (jpwrites@sprynet.com)
Mon, 8 Mar 1999 18:21:47 -0800 Kevin Smith wrote:

> [A]s much as I'm a fan of [Ross] Macdonald, I'm also ambivalent as hell
about his work. Anyone else out there have the same emotional response to
Macdonald's work? Or am I just being a bigger weenie than usual? <

I can't say that I am ambivalent about my feelings toward Macdonald. As far
as I'm concerned, he wrote some of the finest, most distinctive private eye
novels this nation has ever enjoyed reading, from "The Doomsters" and "The
Chill" to "The Instant Enemy" and "The Underground Man." Even the author's
tendency to explore certain familiar themes during the second half of his
career didn't bother me terribly, for he rarely failed to find new gold even
in old diggings. Macdonald's willingness to explore the inner lives and
sometimes horrific heritage of his characters set him apart from most of his
contemporaries and, as others have mentioned here, set the pace for the
writings of people who have more recently followed him onto best-seller

If I am left with any disappointment after reading (and re-reading)
Macdonald's oeuvre, it is that he didn't allow Lew Archer to have the same
number of dimensions as the other characters in his novels. Guarded about
his own troubled personal history, the author seemed to forbid Archer the
all-too-human luxury of being hurt or much humbled by life. The detective
made a career of helping others, but it was only on the rare occasion that
he sought any help himself or allowed his heart to be briefly captured.
Perhaps this is the source of some readers' ambivalence, that Archer seems
to accept emotion without giving it, to listen without sharing, to adopt the
roles of cipher and a savior both.

Jeff Pierce
January Magazine

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