RE: RARA-AVIS: Re: Gruesome JDM passage

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 16 Sep 2002

"My response is part in jest and part serious. An author can paint a pretty creepy protagonist and make a damn good book out of it. Personally, I'd gag if all the protagonists passed the politically correct test with flying colors. On the other hand, when the reader starts thinking that the bad in the protagonist is echoing those of the writer, it's time to toss the propaganda penalty flag."

miker, you raise some interesting questions here. Personally, I love some books about some pretty creepy characters. However, I don't think your comparison between Lou Ford and Travis McGee completely works for this point. Thompson is offering up an intimate portrait of a creepy character. He may not judge him, but I don't think he presents him as a hero. McGee is offered as a hero, tarnished perhaps, but definitely a hero.

Kind of related to this, I recognise the sexism (but not misogyny) of McGee. I think it's kind of quaint and always kind of smiled at it as tied to its time. However, how do female readers take it? I've found Travis to be very popular with women I have known. Most of the mysteries my ex-wife read were those of Ruth Rendell (under both her names) and PD James. However, she went through the McGee series book by book, reading each right after I did. She loved them. I've known a number of other women who do, too. So what makes this sexist curmudgeon appealing to women?

And I agree with you, miker, that the genre would be very boring if everyone had to pass a political litmus test. You add an interesting point, though, about the separation between author and character. That captures why I can no longer read James Ellroy. I can no longer separate the views of his characters from his own. While I started out loving Ellroy for his blurred morality, where no one is pure, for good or for evil, I have come to see a uniformity in the prejudices and biases that transcends individual characters and seems to reflect the author. I've also come to believe that that is why he stayed in the past once he started writing there, so he can indulge his nostalgia for a time when members of various groups knew their places and were beaten back into them if they dared try to break out. Further, if he is called on it he can shrug his shoulders and claim that those were prejudices of the time, not the author.


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