RARA-AVIS: Ross Macdonald

From: Frederick Zackel ( fzackel@wcnet.org)
Date: 31 Mar 2001

Aristotle in his "Poetics" said the audience should feel fear and pity for the inevitable plight of the tragic hero. We should feel pity because we can see ourselves in his shoes. We should feel fear because we can see ourselves in his shoes.

There but for the grace of God . . .

That's compassion.

Compassion isn't sentimentality, either. It's not a Hallmark card, or a Kodak moment. It's not namby-pamby, or loaded with saccharine. It's cold and remorseless and detached, like a wifebeater or the freeway.

It knows the world for what it is. Its eyes are wide-open like an owl's at midnight, and it knows what it's watching is brutally pragmatic, and it sees its own face and features staring back at it.

When you walk the mean streets after midnight, when you step into those places where the cops and the paramedics haven't gone yet, you better know the difference between the perp and the victim. And when they are both and the same.

The Blue Hammer was Ross Macdonald & Lew Archer's last book. I suggest you read that last chapter as a coda for both men's lives. Both had been walking those mean streets for decades and both of them had wide-open eyes. Macdonald wrote stories about a man's journey to compassion.

Hard-boiled and noir -- if they are a freak show without compassion -- they are hollow inside.

Frederick Zackel

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