Monday, July 29, 2013

John D. MacDonald's lighter side

After taking issue with John D. MacDonald's dismissal of Chicago in One Fearful Yellow Eye last week, I feel like I should point out two passages from the book that I particularly enjoyed, if for no other reason than that they're atypical for the McGee novels. They don't quite qualify as comedy, but there's a lightness, even playfulness to them that is a welcome leavening to the usual McGee mix.

The first is a litany of personal disasters retailed by the story's heroine, for whom McGee is trying to recover a late husband's missing estate. It's not so much light as excessive, giving an air of a writer having fun spinning ideas:
Why in the world should my life be some sort of continuous soap opera? I think I had six uneventful years. The first six. Gloria Anne Ridgen. Then all hell broke loose. Is there such a thing as drama-prone? You know, you go hunting for the action. My daddy bought me a ride on a merry-go-round, and that was the time the man running it had to be drunk and decided he wasn't going to stop it. When they died I had to live with my nutty old aunt, and if my astrology tables were wrong any given day, she wouldn't let me go to school. The boy I went with in high school was walking by a building and somebody dropped a can of paint, and when he woke up from the coma a year later, he had the mind of a two-year-old. In college my roommate was a secret klepto and hid the loot in my luggage and when they began to narrow it down, she turned me in, and six months later she got caught and they apologized and asked me to come back to school, and the day I was due to leave I got infectious mononucleosis and my dog was run over. All I want is a plain, neat, ordinary, unexciting life. But what happens? In Buffalo one day I got off the bus downtown on a hot afternoon and the bus door closed on my wraparound skirt and drove off and left me spinning like a top in my little yellow briefs on the busiest corner in town. You know, I dream about that. There I am, and everybody is applauding and I can't stop twirling.
More deliberately comic is a passage that comes later, which shows a mocking awareness of how overly apocalyptic McGee's pronouncements about the decline of society can get. Like a lot of good comedy, it takes place in the bathroom:
I shed coat and jacket and rolled up my shirt sleeves and drew a lavatory bowl of cold water. I wallowed and scrubbed and made seal sounds, and then found out that the management had thoughtfully provided one of those warm air tubes for the drying bit, the special kind that leave you feeling coated with grease rather than water. Small children think they are fun. Every adult in the land hates them. They are part of the international communist conspiracy. A nation forced to dry itself off in a machined huff of sickly warm air is going to be too irritable, listless, and disheartened to fight. Americans unite! Carry your own towels. Carry little sticks with which you can wedge those turn-off faucets open so you can get two hands under the water at the same time. Carry your own soap so you need not wash your paws in that sickly green punch-button goo that leaves you smelling like an East Indian bordello. Carry your own toilet paper, men. The psychic trauma created by a supply of the same paper stock used for four-color ads in Life magazine cannot be measured
McGee will occasionally remind himself not to take himself too seriously, but most of the time that's in the midst of a monologue where he's very much taking himself seriously, and with good reason. It's nice to see MacDonald letting him acknowledge the ridiculousness that, like the bad guy with the sap, is always a risk for a noir hero.

No comments:

Post a Comment