Monday, May 1, 2017

Reading John D. MacDonald: an experiment

The late John D. MacDonald was a prolific writer of pulp fiction. A graduate of business school, MacDonald took a workmanlike approach to writing. He usually worked 8 hours a day at his typewriter, just like one would at a “job”. (Writing a “job”—imagine that!) He regularly produced more than 4,000 words each day. (This was a lot more difficult in the age of typewriters—trust my word on this, as a child of the 1980s.)

MacDonald was also a writer who was “before my time”. (And as I admit above, I’m no spring chicken.) MacDonald passed away in 1986, the year I graduated from high school.

I remember John D. MacDonald mostly as the writer who wrote the pithy introduction to Stephen King’s short story collection, Night Shift

I figured that, at long last, I owed MacDonald (or his estate, at least) some of my money, so I purchased The Deep Blue Goodbye, the first of the Travis McGee novels. I’m about halfway through the thing. 

A few observations: 

Travis McGee is a likable character, at least compared to most of the private eyes of the “noir” era. McGee lives on a houseboat and likes to loaf a lot, so he’s a bit unconventional. But he isn't antisocial or a drug addict. He doesn't abuse women.

MacDonald, like many writers, liked to philosophize through his characters. (The Deep Blue Goodbye, at least, is written in the first person perspective.) The philosophical perambulations of a man who was born in 1916, writing in the early 1960s, age about as well as you might expect. Your mileage may vary. 

The women in The Deep Blue Goodbye (and there are a bevy of them) do come across as a trifle silly and helpless. They are constantly either the hapless victim of a man, or waiting around, slightly confused, for a man to rescue them.

I’ve found this to be a little tiresome. And you should know that I find political correctness about as desirable as ebola. The problem isn't that I’m “offended”, but rather that this makes the female characters in The Deep Blue Goodbye shallow and underutilized. 

But hey, this book was published in 1964, after all.