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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ross Macdonald Redux


Both sides of the tracks are the wrong side,
if you live close enough to them.
— Ross Macdonald

That the Coen Brothers plan to turn Ross Macdonald's Black Money into a film is reason to go on. 

Although only one of Macdonald's 18 "California noir" mystery novels, it's a ripper—as are nearly all the books forming the Lew Archer saga, the adventures of an LA detective who's more poet than policeman, more psychoanalyst than private eye.

I rarely let a year pass without rereading one or two of Macdonald's masterpieces. His observations of people trapped by undeserved wealth and poverty are ceaselessly humane—and as accurate as any you'll find in genre fiction.

As in life, no one in a Lew Archer mystery is without sin—neither the oligarchs nor the outcasts; the matriarchs nor the mobsters; the cops nor the con men; the hippies nor the hucksters; the surfers nor the starlets. And the prose is delicious—the key reason Library of America this year enshrined 11 Lew Archer novels in its collection.

"Macdonald matters because he’s one of the finest fiction writers in American literature, not just detective fiction," says biographer Tom Nolan.

Macdonald learned to write in graduate school from teachers like W.H. Auden and Cleanth Brooks, who taught him that not only every word, "but every line, every sentence, every little block is integrated into the whole, and everything should have equal weight to create a unified work of art and beauty," Nolan says.

"The things that are most interesting and appealing about him, and valuable to people still, are the beauty of the expression, of the language, the beauty of the prose, which has poetic qualities and is informed by a great lyric talent."

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