RARA-AVIS: The Red Hot Typewriter: Life and Times of John D. MacDonald

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 15 Feb 2005

There are some biographies where the writer combines style and wit with a detailed knowledge of every aspect of the subject's life, combines it with a wide-ranging view of the times and culture, and then picks and choosses to describe what the person was really like way down deep, what they did, and why they mattered. And then there are biographies like THE RED HOT TYPEWRITER: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN D. MACDONALD (2000) by Hugh Merrill, which don't.

We talked about the book back in September 2000, and you can check the archives (look for "Red Hot" or "MacDonald bio" in the subject) to see what Mr. Crider and Mr. Moore and others said. They didn't like it much, and neither do I. Tom Nolan didn't either:


It's a biography of the creator of Travis McGee, and it tells us the name of the minister presiding at the wedding of JDM's wife's short-lived first marriage, but it doesn't bother describing most of the McGee books. Or most of his other books. The later big books (CONDOMINIUM, ONE MORE SUNDAY, NO DEADLY DRUG) get special treatment, as do the movie adaptations, but there's not much here to make anyone who hadn't read any JDM go out and buy a copy.

Merrill did most of his work in the JDM archives, and there are excerpts from letters to and from JDM, but no interviews. JDM comes off as grumpy and always willing to tell someone why they're wrong. He never comes alive, and his wife and son are hardly there at all.

The bibliography at the end does not list any of JDM's pulp stories, which is a very annoying omission.

I'm going to reread "The Big White Smile," by Charles Willeford (collected in WRITING AND OTHER BLOOD SPORTS), which is about JDM and a very nice short essay, as I remember.


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

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