RARA-AVIS: Re: Tobias Jones on Ross MacDonald in yesterday's Guardian

From: prosperena (prosperena@yahoo.com)
Date: 03 Aug 2009

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    [from the article] During the late 1950s, when he was having well-publicised difficulties with his daughter, Macdonald underwent therapy. Too much Freud can be the kiss of death for many writers' imaginations, but the couch opened his eyes to new artistic possibilities. As he later told Newsweek, in 1971: "Freud was one of the ... greatest influences on me. He made myth into psychiatry, and I've been trying to turn it back into myth again."

    Maybe Freudian analysis helped Macdonald, but when he turns amateur shrink and puts Chandler on the couch, as he does several times in his nonfiction writings, he gets a number of incomplete or just plain wrong ideas about Chandler's personal life that have persisted to this day. This is a disservice both to Chandler and Macdonald. (I have a rather crude vision of Macdonald asking his psychotherapist to help him exorcise the hold that Chandler had over him and that these writings are what the doctor prescribed.)

    Although I've enjoyed every Ross Macdonald novel I've read (was close to tears at the end of "The Doomsters," which I just finished a couple of days ago) I have to say (borrowing my quotes from Chandler himself, who is far more articulate on this subject than I could ever hope to be) that unlike Hammett he "doesn't seem to me to have that crisp something that gets you by the throat and holds on." With regards to Chandler, for me, Macdondald "doesn't vibrate, the hell with it. I don't care how ingenious the plot is, it seems to me to mean nothing unless the prose has that glimmer of magic." Yes, I was close to tears at the end of "The Doomsters" but today can't really bring the book's conclusion to mind (except that is seemed rather hurried), while I can conjure up individual lines and passages of Hammett and Chandler that I haven't re-read recently. They leave that indefinable "afterglow" that Chandler wrote of in a 1/1946 letter to Alfred Knopf.

    But in the end, it's all really a matter of taste and I agree with Patrick King when he says this "makes me think someone is desperate for a crime fiction triumvirate" -- a pointless, pseudo-literary conceit that has nothing to do with what gives us pleasure in the reading of Hammett, Chandler, Macdonald, or any other writers in our own triumvirates.

    Kari E. Johnson

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