RARA-AVIS: Gold Medal Month -- John D Macdonald's CONTRARY PLEASURE

From: Doug Bassett ( dj_bassett@yahoo.com)
Date: 10 Aug 2002

I can't give you the GM number because this is a reissue that probably came out in the early Seventies, judging by the way they're hawking THE DREADFUL LEMON SKY on the cover. It originally came out in 1954.

CONTRARY PLEASURE is a "this is the way we live now" book. It's an examination of the Delevan family, who run a local knitting mill in upstate NY. Some things happen: an early-issue corporate raider is interesting in coordinating a merger with a larger firm; various family members have various bad things of varying severity happen to them. But it's mainly intended to be a character study.

It's a much better book than THE DAMNED, although less happens. It's longer, for one thing, which means that JDM could actually work on developing characters, rather than employing stock types as a kind of shorthand. The revelations are quieter and come out mostly at a natural pace, which makes them seem believable.

Best of all JDM seems more in control of the material here, more willing to be objective, step back from it all. If you read a lot of JDM some general themes emerge time and again: business is a quietly heroic enterprise; modern American society is unfulfilling, sex is best as part of an uninhibited committed relationship, etc. But here JDM plays with his formula a bit, and the book's the better for it. The Slut Who's Well on her Way to Becoming a Whore is far more sympathetic than usual, the main act of violence isn't perpertrated by the Animalistic Throwback but rather The Weak Ineffectual Male, etc.

It's not a perfect book -- some of the revelations seem to me awkward in the extreme and badly dated, and there's a rather ponderous air of self-importance in the later chapters. And frankly I'm not a huge fan of JDM's soapier offerings. But I liked it, and if you like this sort of JDM book, you'll probably love it.


===== Doug Bassett dj_bassett@yahoo.com

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