RARA-AVIS: Re:John D. MacDonald Gold Medal Treasure Trove!

From: Richard Moore (moorich@aol.com)
Date: 27 Apr 2009

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    --- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, ejgorman99@... wrote:
    > In a message dated 4/19/09 9:05:22 PM, nevins_mark@... writes:
    > > I have noted that in my few years of mostly-lurking on R-A he has not
    > > come up very often (Maybe he's not considered hb/noir enough? But some of his
    > > stuff sure is), and I recognize that his style (especially the fairly
    > > frequent moralizing narrator) may not be to everyone's taste

    As I think back fifty years ago to my teenage years when reading became a passion, two writers who ranked in my top five were John D. Macdonald and Robert Heinlein. The phrase "moralizing narrator" is one way of summing up what happened to both of them. I'm not sure what did it to each of them but they both became so convinced of their own brilliance that they interrupted their later stories to lecture to the masses. That's what destroyed the magic.

      JDM was always interested in the intersection of crime and
    > the middle-class. That's why The Executioners is such a fine novel. A
    > comfortable home life destroyed--and changed forever--by the entrance of the
    > ultimate psychopathic thug.

    JDM understood the middle-class because he was a part of it. Yes, he made his living as a writer and lived for a time in Mexico but at heart he was upstate New York with an MBA and maintained that orientation into the early 1960s. THE KEY TO THE SUITE is still a favorite of mine and it was at that intersection you speak of.

    > With the exception of two or three of them, I don't think the McGees
    > are all that interesting. Certainly the male chauvinism and the moralizing has
    > dated them but so, I think, has the derring-do. JDM was a hell of a lot
    > more interesting as a writer when he stuck to his instincts, which combined
    > pulp crime with a John O'Hara-like facility for the sociology of his time and
    > place.

    Absolutely! John O'Hara is often overlooked as an influence on crime writers. It is clearly evident with JDM as it is with Lawrence Block and many others.

    > Kurt Vonnegut once remarked that JDM was a historian of the fifties and
    > early sixties. Murder In The Wind and Cry Hard, Cry Fast are just two
    > examples. The Neon Jungle remains one of the most vivid portraits of post-war
    > America I've ever read.
    > I think he's still worth reading and rereading. I wish more people
    > agreed.

    As I recall Kurt Vonnegut's early praise of JDM, he spoke with admiration of Macdonald being the king of the drug store paperback rack and the military PX (Post Exchange) and how that had built his loyal audience by delivering on those quarter investments. Vonnegut himself had authored a few PBOs so he was not talking down. It was true praise. Beyond the books sold at the PX, free paperbacks were sent to the US military overseas and I know for a fact that the JDMs were hot commodities and passed from GI to GI.

    But he lost the magic that won that loyalty. The moralizing and pomposity wore it away.

    Richard Moore

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