Re: RARA-AVIS: Ambivalent About Ross Macdonald?

Ned Fleming (
Tue, 09 Mar 1999 03:41:09 GMT J. Kingston Pierce wrote:

>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

I'm not sure how one can be both a fan of and ambivalent toward an
author at the same time. On the other hand, it's said by Freudians that
the ability to hold contradictory beliefs simultaneously is the mark of

In my (indisputably) humble opinion Chandler couldn't carry Macdonald's
jock strap. One difference, of course, is that Chandler wrote in
analogies and metaphors that invited caricaturization. See

for a Chandler send-up. The successor to Chandler is Ace Ventura, not
Macdonald's Archer. Ace Ventura is the cornball outworking and logical
conclusion to Philip Marlowe: an out-of-step clown. Marlowe could exist
for a twenty- to thirty-year period in American history. Before or after
this tiny window and Marlowe is either shoveling coal or living under a
bridge somewhere.

Macdonald cannot be caricatured (except insofar as some of his lesser
works mimic the Chandler style), for he wrote with a much more timeless
sense of prose, with a much greater understanding of human psychology.
Mind you, I'm no fan of Freudianism, which Macdonald was apparently
beholden to, but Macdonald was able to mask its logical inconsistencies
and attenuate its inflated sense of being an all-encompassing
explanation for the The Way People Behave and Why. As a masquerade for
Freud, Macdonald's writings are excellent. Nobody can read "The Chill"
and come away unweirder, if I may use such a word.

Before I forget, A&E is going to broadcast a movie about Dashiell
Hammet's and Lillian Hellman's lives together. It's called, natch, "Dash
and Lill." It might interest some of you to know that "Dash" wrote most
of "Lill's" best work. "The Little Foxes" is Hammett's, I understand.
Hellman was a great showwoman -- a kind of P T Barnum -- and milked her
association with Hammett for years and years. I doubt the movie lets you
know this, so I'm getting my digs in here and now.

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