RARA-AVIS: Re: RARA-AVIS Defending Archer

From: Dixon H. Chandler II ( dchandler@nettally.com)
Date: 29 Aug 2001

Michael Sharp writes about Marlowe and Archer.

>point Macdonald went into denial about the fact that he was writing
>crime fiction and entered completely into the delusion that he was
>writing Greek tragedies. The result is an inauthenticity and

I don't think this is fair. They're two different beasts, both working from within the same tradition. You did qualify by saying that this is your opinion, but Archer WAS (sort of) writing Greek tragedies, and I love it. He was also aiming for a greater degree of psychological complexity than Chandler, or more accurately, aiming to reach it with a different emphasis on other means (internal monologue vs. Chandler's metaphorical structure and symbolism, et al)

I agree with your point about inauthenticity in some of his dialogue, but only to a degree. Does there exist a man who thinks in terms of the beautiful metaphors of Raymond Chandler, comparing hoodlums to tarantulas on angelfood the very first time he spots them? I doubt it. Most of our minds, when encountering Moose Malloy, would register the cliche of most bad crime fiction: "He was big. Real big." (An aside: I just watched The Band Wagon last night, with Fred Astaire's remarkable "hardboiled/noir" number, and loved the cliche-mocking that went on there. "She was bad. Real bad.")

>Archer becomes a smarmy, paternalistic, moralizing Greek chorus.

I think Macdonald the writer may be moralizing, but I tend to just accept that, and enjoy Archer the writer, as a flawed human being, deeply concerned with his fellow men.

I see the same phenomenon going with the OTHER Macdonald: John. Travis is a SOB in some ways, a lovable lunk in others, and, similar to Archer, flawed but concerned in still others. And in the McGee novels, some of my favorite moments come when Macdonald steps into Travis and preaches about his personal concerns. The environment, academics, et al.

Much of it seems to come down to the language, at least for me. Each of the writers I've mentioned compels me to pay attention with the way they write. As with Shakespeare and the Greeks, I can stand a little preaching as long as they continue to tell me a great story in interesting ways.

>opinion*. Feel free to take your own shots at Chandler or Thompson >or
Holding or Himes, all of whom I worship in various ways

Great stories, great language. Or great ideas, or whatever is the strength of each of those above, and a dozen others. I love all of the above.

(Ironically, I am one of the few on this list who will defend Robert Parker. I DON'T think he's a particularly good writer; I think his characters are stereotypes (and bad ones at that), his situations bogus. His particular command of the language isn't anywhere near as spectacular as he seems to think it is. But I enjoy the Spenser novels as a casual read over a night or two. I think of Parker as a later-day Shell Scott.)

Macdonald deserves more than a dismissal because of a writerly characteristic (moralizing, preaching) he was probably conscious of anyway.

Bah. I'm babbling, and preaching myself. That's what you get for being the first e-mail I've answered this morning! ;-)


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