Re: RARA-AVIS: Red Hot

Date: 17 Sep 2000

Bill is right: THE RED HOT TYPEWRITER is a terrible title. About twenty or twenty-five years ago, when I was an undergrad, Rust Hills profiled MacDonald for ESQUIRE using the title THE AWESOME BEIGE TYPEWRITER, referring to -- if memory serves me correctly -- JDM's IBM Selectric typewriter (weren't they all beige?). I think THE AWESOME BEIGE TYPEWRITER is the much better choice of titles...

I too have a hard time recommending THE RED HOT TYPEWRITER. It is a slim volume, yet makes extensive use of long, direct quotes from primary material. Ironically, in spite of the use of lengthy primary source quotes, you leave the book feeling as if you've been observing JDM at arm's length. He comes across as a guy who approached writing in the same way any business person approaches any other business venture. He didn't seem particularly inspired; he is presented as a craftsman who went to work early in the morning, took a break for lunch, then worked through the afternoon before finishing his day with a gin and tonic. He did this day after day, year after year. He was not much at all like Travis McGee. Yet I kept thinking there must have been something under the surface that wasn't revealed in THE RED HOT TYPEWRITER. Frankly, there is a rather dark streak through JDM's best works, but Hugh Merrill never probed why that dark streak might be there.

All of which is to say that I think the definitive JDM biography is still to be written.


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