RARA-AVIS: MacDonald

From: George Pelecanos ( shoedog1@erols.com)
Date: 03 Apr 2001

Of the non-series MacDonald pulp books, try ONE MONDAY WE KILLED THEM ALL, which has to be one of the coolest hardboiled titles ever. (My vote for the coolest McGee title: THE GREEN RIPPER) The back-cover copy on my Fawcett Gold Medal edition reads: "He was a man who could slap one woman to death because she loved him, and hum a love song to another while he raped her." Kinda like the type of guy McGee would go after in the later books.

Commercially speaking, there has never been a smarter creation than Travis McGee. He is the embodiment of male wish-fulfillment. No nine-to-five job, lives by his own set of rules, resides on a houseboat, drinks but is not a drunk, tall, handsome, good with his fists but not a bully, etc. All of the women McGee sleeps with are built like centerfolds, and, more importantly, most of them conveniently kick before that bothersome issue of commitment comes to the forefront (one mystery store in New York actually has an annual Travis McGee Always the Bridesmaid Never the Bride Award in honor of the latest murdered female companion to a male series character). So McGee is the man we--okay, most of us--would like to see when we look in the mirror. And, yeah, I love the books. I even named my old dog, Travis, after McGee. And that dog was a bitch.

One more thing: the McGee books are early 60s timepieces (the hero's Hefner-like, paternal attitude towards women) in the same way that Spillane's books represent a certain kind of attitude (paranoid, racist, homophobic) from the 50s. Think of them on one hand as social records, and try not to judge them from the perspective of our more "enlightened" present. When a modern writer tries to approximate that attitude in a period book (for the sake of his own street-cred or to maintain a rep of cool) is when the issue becomes more complicated and problematic.

That ought to stir up the bees.


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