RARA-AVIS: Macdonald, Gatsby, etc.

From: Frederick Zackel ( fzackel@wcnet.org)
Date: 30 Nov 2004

Macdonald's digression from the PI conventions begins by making Archer
"two-dimensional," although what he did say was that Archer was a welder's mitt. Archer was how to handle "hot stuff." Archer's job was a mitt to carry the "hot stuff" within the tragedy of the mystery. Archer was a looking-glass, I suppose you cold also say, and we telescoped out of or microscoped in to a family tragedy.

The family tragedies often were based on Gatsby, on the Oedipus complex (the Freudian angle), or on some personal perspective Macdonald had of our American dystopia. (Damn, I sound academic. Maybe I should go kill somebody cruelly, viciously before I go on.) The first two I think everybody on rara-avis knows. Black Money is a rewrite of Gatsby. After The Galton Case, almost all of his books were variations on Oedipus. Is that old myth trite & cliched? Think about Dubya & his old man.

I know Terrill hates "location as character" as being cliched, but Macdonald wrote his books sharply focused on the life & styles of 1950s & 1960s California; he was a Californian writer more than he was a mystery writer.
"Location as Character" goes the slogan. Not local color, but a deeper appreciation of how a Location acts & reacts itself within a story.

The movie Chinatown is a very Angeleno story, while the Falcon could happen in any city in the world. The Big Sleep is Los Angeles, and Los Angeles as a Character is crystal clear in Chandler's opening paragraph of "Red Wind." In Macdonald's The Underground Man, the California fire itself is a character in the story. Yes, the fire is more three-dimensional than Archer, but Archer is just the prism we see a family tragedy through. In Sleeping Beauty, the oil spill is a Character.

For my money, what I like most about Macdonald's work is that he added compassion to his tragedies. The Blue Hammer, for instance, which was Macdonald's last work, ends with a father & son embrace. Forgiveness, in a curious way, for murder. On the other hand, compassion is absent in Hammett, for instance. There's zip mercy on any page. Can you talk about Chandler & Compassion? I dunno. At the risk of pissing off people, when I consider Chandler & Compassion in the same breath, Marlowe makes me think of him as a whiner. Can we talk about Compassion in the Hard-boiled Novel? Compassion in Noir?

Stepping back into the shadows to reload...

Fred Zackel

"In my tenure as a homicide lieutenant, every Thanksgiving there's a murder," Las Vegas Metro Homicide Lieutenant Monahan told the Las Vegas Sun.
"I'm told by my predecessor that in his five years, every year there was a murder."

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 30 Nov 2004 EST