RE: RARA-AVIS: Dorothy B. Hughes

Date: 03 Jun 2001

A couple of late thoughts, after going back through Ride the Pink Horse.

First, one of the things that dates Hughes, even at her hardest boiled (Ride...
& In A Lonely Place), is a tendency to have characters summarize thoughts, particularly memories. Sailor (in Ride...) thinks back on his mother's church habits, but, somewhat unrealistically, we're to follow his memory all while he does something else in the present. Or with the present more (er) Present, one has little talks with oneself: "He couldn't let her know his disappointment. They hadn't played it that way. They hadn't been soft lovers; they'd been aware of worldly needs...He knew better but he demanded....A fellow had to have money, you couldn't get a girl..." (Dix in In a Lonely Place). Such "inside talking" slows everything down and loosens the tension or drama that creates the rhythm of smart talk and action associated with hard-boiled fiction. In some ways, this tendency can be seen in much of the fiction of the time--so one makes adjustments (or not).

The second thing I noticed may also be a period feature: the moral fork in the road, the opportunity to take a different direction that is seriously considered, objectively offered. The opportunity to cooperate with the police in Ride..., the opportunity to make a clean breast of it and seek help in In a Lonely Place. [Both novels had endings changed by Hollywood writers, in part because the alternatives were there.] In Ride the Pink Horse, the pull toward something "better" or "good" is even dramatized in the religious side of the Festival, the piety of the lower classes (who remind the protagonist of his own origins). This book reminded me somewhat of Graham Greene's fiction, especially the hard-edged (perhaps not boiled) Brighton Rock. Perhaps the best line in Ride... comes from Sailor's moral awareness: he's in church, but he reminds himself, "He hadn't come here to pray; he'd come with a gun to keep his eye on a rat [who is praying]."

A large generalization: most of the personal questioning in recent hard-boiled seems to have more to do with ends and means, a pragmatic weighing of consequences. Internally, traditional conflicts with conscience have been replaced by psychological struggle with traumatic memories. Does this seem so?

Bill Hagen

# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
#  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 03 Jun 2001 EDT