Thursday, December 13, 2007

It's Ross Macdonald's Birthday

The Writer's Almanac from American Public Media: "And then, one day, Millar invented a private investigator named Lew Archer. Millar later said, 'I was in trouble, and Lew Archer got me out of it... I couldn't work directly with my own experiences and feelings. A narrator had to be interposed, like protective lead, between me and the radioactive material.'"

Ed Gorman's recently had some blog posts (here, here, here, and here) about another Mac, John D. It seems that his writing doesn't hold up for the younger crowd. They find it "slow," and I've heard much the same complaint about Ross Macdonald's work. Too bad. For me, he'll always be one of the greats.

11 comments:

Todd Mason said...

All I can say is that I was a very young man when I read THE BLUE HAMMER, and that usually discounted Ross M. made a fan of me. "Both" John M.s are easily among the best to emerge as novelists in the postwar era.

Bill Crider said...

No argument from this corner.

Benjie said...

Speaking as one of "the younger crowd" (?) I'd have to claim time. I don't have enough to read all the stuff that the likes of say, Bill Crider and David J. Walker are currently cranking out to run back and pick up some of the pioneers. I will admit that I'm usually not disappointed when I do.

bookgasm bruce said...

And here I was reading Blue City today not even knowing it was his birthday. Which will be popping up in a future column.

Frank Loose said...

I have yet to read anyone who wrote or writes detective fiction with the emotional resonance that Ross MacDonald achieved. Some critics say he wrote the same book over and over again. Well, i only wish he'd written a dozen more! I read somewhere, maybe in something Tom Nolan wrote, that RM was outlining a final Archer story in which the plot would roll back on Archer himself. Too bad RM was unable to write that book. At least we still have his series, which in my mind is the best American detective series ever written.

Anonymous said...

I know I'll burn in hell as a heretic but I gotta say it anyway: I think Ross MacDonald has and will age about as well as S.S. van Dine. Yes, he wrote a few good private eye novels (my personal favorite is The Underground Man), but to call him a major, influential writer of that genre...well, those tortured, over-ripe similies and metaphors clogging the narrative on every page, that dour "look ma I'm a serious writer gone slumming" approach, writing the same plot over and over and over and over again...really, the guy was a one-trick pony who never gave the PI novel anything new, as far as I can see, but did spend a career building on what Chandler had already done (and much, much better) with The Long Goodbye. MacDonald had his time in the sun and inspired scads of immitators in the '70s who knew far more about literature than the street but he was nowhere near JDM's class in range or craft, and is already but a footnote in a genre who's three superstars will always be Hammett, Chandler and Spillane. Now maybe I should leave before someone throws something at me.

--Stephen Mertz

Bill Crider said...

Hey, Steve. Always glad to see a different opinion. Yours and Frank's together there make a nice pair.

Frank Loose said...

I don't want to get into a back and forth posting of opinions here concerning Ross MacDonald and his legacy, but i do want to address a couple points. One concerns whether his writing meant anything to the future of the genre. I think RM's major contribution to the detective story was that he took the crimes out of the streets and put them into the hearts of people, and showed how mistakes and selfish choices and fallen relationships could send ripples of ill affect into following generations, and as such, RM showed that detective fiction could be about anything. To put this type story into the framework of detective fiction was a major step. Contemporary writers have taken that lead and run with it. Regarding RM's sometimes heavy use of simile, well, don't forget Chandler was the king of this. I think it is easier to look back on Hammett and Chandler and read their stuff "in light" of the times they wrote. MacDonald wrote much closer to our own time period and as such his stuff doesn't yet have the distinction of feeling like it is of another period. Therefore some things might sound "off." I have read each of RM's stuff at least five times each over the years, and while some stories hold up better than others, the affect of the ending is always strong --- even though i know what is coming. I agree that the other MacDonald -- John D. --- was quite prolific, but to say that his range was greater is a reach. I have read six or seven of his pre-McGee books this year and there are great similarities between the books. JDM was turning out those Gold Medals at a brisk pace, as were other writers of the time like Gil Brewer and Harry Whittington, so there had to be some formula to it. Suffice it to say, we all have opinions and what strikes a cord with me emotionally may not do it for someone else. But, isn't it grand that we have all these great books written over the past seventy years that we can search out and discover and enjoy.

Bill Crider said...

Thanks, Frank. Great comment. Maybe I can arrange a steel cage match for you and Steve.

jr said...

I love John D, though I must admit in just the last few years I've found it more dated, the Travis McGee stuff anyway. The other stuff holds up better, in the way that Chandler or Hammett are wonderful and timeless. Ross never pulled my chain, but I respect his contributions to the genre. Joe Lansdale

Juri said...

To me, Ross Macdonald is one of the greatest. (And look, I'm only 35.) Don't much care for the other Mac.