RARA-AVIS: 1960s: Pale Gray for Guilt

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 22 Feb 2003

PALE GRAY FOR GUILT (1968) by John D. MacDonald is the ninth Travis McGee novel. McGee's old friend Tush Bannon (another in the vast array of amusing names in JDM's books) was having a rough time running a motel and marina in Florida. The fix was in around the county to put him out of business so someone could buy his land cheap and make it part of a large deal. Bannon wouldn't give in, and one day they found him crushed under a big hunk of engine in his garage. But, like the cover says,

| You can trick Travis McGee
| Maybe beat on him
| If you're lucky he might shrug it off
| But whatever you do
| Don't kill his friends

Damn right. McGee starts nosing around and Meyer helps him cook up a big con to take down a rich wheeler-dealer. I've been keeping an eye peeled for anything setting the book in 1968, and there isn't much.

| I switched the FM-UHF marine radio to the commercial frequencies
| and tried to find something that didn't sound like somebody trying
| to break up a dogfight in a sorority house by banging drums and
| cymbals. Not that I want to say it isn't music. Of course it is
| music, styled to accompany teen-age fertility rites, and thus is as
| far out of my range as "Rockabye Baby.... As I was about to give up
| I found some pleasant eccentric, or somebody who'd grabbed the wrong
| record, playing Brubeck doing Cole Porter, and I caught it just as
| he opened up "Love for Sale" in a fine and gentle manner, and then
| handed it delicately over to Desmond, who set up a witty dialogue
| with Joe Morello.

This is classic McGee. There's the technical detail that it's an "FM-UHF marine radio," not just any old radio, and there's the snobbery about crass popular music. McGee's too experienced and intelligent to dig rock and roll, though it's fine for the kids. But who does he admire? Dave Brubeck, who played very nice but quite safe jazz. McGee didn't even like the way jazz had changed.

Later, McGee has a wonderful time with Puss Killian:

| We peaked at that point where the wine held us in an unreal place,
| neither drunk nor sober, neither sane nor crazy, where the funny
| things were thrice funny, where all the games were inexhaustible,
| where tears were part of laughter or sadness, and every taste was
| sharpened, every odor pungent, every nerve branch incomparably
| sensitized. The ones who are half alive can reach that place, perhaps,
| with their trips and their acids and their freaking, but reality
| truly felt, awareness made totally aware, is a magic they can't
| carry around in powdered form.

Among all his other characteristics, McGee could be pretty uptight.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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