RARA-AVIS: Re: Ross Macdonald

From: robhenryson ( msharp@binghamton.edu)
Date: 30 Nov 2004

This Ross Macdonald discussion comes around every once in a while on this list, it seems. I've said it before and I'll say it again (or maybe I've only said it to myself, in my head, where I do my best work): find me the BEST paragraph in the BEST Ross Macdonald novel, and I will top it by opening *any* of FIVE Chandler novels and plunking my finger down at random. [though one could argue that a work must be evaluated as a whole, not on the basis of the best paragraph, I suppose]

Having studied Ross Macdonald, having read his letters and papers at the archives at UC Irvine, having published an article on him, I have developed enormous respect for him as a man, but have come to believe without a doubt that he is not and never was in the same league as Chandler. Those who deny the pre-eminence of Chandler and want to give props to RM *instead* of (rather than *in addition to*) Chandler are simply doing what RM did his Entire Career: trying desperately and ineffectually to get out from under the towering, majesterial, undeniable shadow of Chandler, an shadow which I'm sure is annoying in its length and breadth. Not that Chandler doesn't have his faults. Even his best work has a clunky passage or two. But no one evoked such a compelling mood, wrote such compelling dialogue, and generally constructed such memorable scenes as did Chandler. In the crime fiction genre, at any rate.

HOWEVER: RM is by FAR the more "influential" writer when it comes to contemporary P.I. novelists. As you can guess, I don't think this is a good thing. When it comes to many if not most contemporary P.I. novelists, allow me to generalize Drastically: their characters are flat, their dialogue is borrowed, their plots are twice- baked, and their P.I.'s are far far too decent. I don't want a sympathetic narrator who goes out of his way to play paternal role model to wayward children whose parents neglected them and/or burdened them with a sordid family history (the plot of every other damned RM novel, it seems). I want a narrator with the capacity to excite and entertain, who is somewhat unpredictable and occasionally patently unlikable.

Most of all, I want a writer who is Not afraid to be a Stylish writer, a stylist, even if that means writing the occasional miserable sentence, paragraph, chapter, or entire novel. A few of these daring writers exist. Ellroy is one of them. I understand the various criticisms of RC and think many of them have validity; but that doesn't change the fact (in my opinion...) that RC is the greatest crime fiction writer of the 20th century (with only Hammett as a viable challenger).

Sorry if that came off like a rant. I actually rather liked some of the stuff RM wrote under his real name, Kenneth Millar, most notably Trouble Follows Me and The Dark Tunnel.

Respectfully, Michael Sharp

------------------------ Yahoo! Groups Sponsor --------------------~--> Make a clean sweep of pop-up ads. Yahoo! Companion Toolbar. Now with Pop-Up Blocker. Get it for free! http://us.click.yahoo.com/L5YrjA/eSIIAA/yQLSAA/kqIolB/TM

RARA-AVIS home page: http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/
  Yahoo! Groups Links

<*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

<*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

<*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

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