RE: Re: RARA-AVIS: Recent Reads (Hughes)

Date: 22 Jul 2001

In catching up with Karin's Incredible Summer of Reading, I noticed this paragraph:
> It's a bit late to be reporting, but I did read Ride the Pink Horse during
> Dorothy B. Hughes month. The main character, Sailor, was a hard case.
> Although the story is told in the third person, the narration is entirely
> in the words he would use. Any opinions here on the "appropriation" of the
> male voice by a female writer? Just asking. I thought it was pretty
> convincing. I also read almost half of The Davidian Report, but didn't feel
> it was worth finishing. Somehow this story of Communist spies in early
> 1950s Hollywood just wasn't that gripping. Nothing much happened for pages.

I find this appropriation impressive and interesting too. Add to the picture that she was being very much the mother, writing in the kitchen while the little ones played in the house. [Reminds me of Shirley Jackson's account of thinking up "The Lottery" while pushing her child in a buggy or stroller.] Hughes dropped the female protagonist from her novels, I think, with The Fallen Sparrow--though let's note that the male there is more memorable for his vulnerabilities than his abilities. In fact, if you include uncontrollable urges or behavior as vulnerabilities, then her four major male protagonists (in Sparrow, Pink Horse, In a Lonely Place, and Expendable Man) are all highly vulnerable. But her earlier female characters seem bound by a formula "rule": no matter how plucky, good women will always need the assistance of a male to succeed. [Notice I said "good women," because I'm not referring to femme fatale characters.] I speculate that Hughes got tired of being limited by the stereotype of the good woman, and went to vulnerable men instead--protagonists who might or might not accept the support of a good woman, and who could fail.

That's my speculation, anyway.

As to Davidian's being inferior, I agree completely. Reminds me of her early stuff, with villains changed from fascists to commies. As with Expendable Man
(which was more successful), she seems to have been stimulated by Current Events. In A Lonely Place, possibly her best, does a more convincing take on Hollywood--though the novel is less "about" screenwriters than the film.

Bill Hagen

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