May 21, 2015


Dive into Ross Macdonald's California noir masterpieces : The legendary writer of psychoanalytic mysteries captured the culture of postwar California better than anyone (SCOTT TIMBERG, 5/20/15, Salon)

The Library of America has just released "Four Novels of the 1950s," edited by Macdonald biographer Tom Nolan. (Ross Macdonald was the pen name of California-born, Canadian-reared Kenneth Millar, who lived in Santa Barbara with his wife, the mystery writer Margaret Millar, and died in 1983.)

We spoke to Nolan, a veteran journalist, from his home in Los Angeles.

Let's start with Macdonald in general. There are hundreds of detective novels coming out every year. For people who don't know Macdonald's work, why is this guy worth reading? Similarly, why is it worth Library of America, which is sort of the guardian of the literary world, putting out 60-year-old novels?

Well, as you know, they put out the best of American literature, including nonfiction and speeches and poetry. Of course, a lot of the things they publish are much, much older than 60 years. But Macdonald matters because I think he's one of the finest fiction writers in American literature, not just detective fiction but all of American modern fiction. 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. The beauty of the expression, and it's the emotional content and the human experience that touches people in the heart in ways that are very special to a lot of readers. A lot of empathy, which is not always the same as sympathy, but often it is. It represents a lot of experience, it's beautifully expressed, that a lot of people can relate to.

Although he initially wrote about criminals and traditional elements of crime fiction, as he matured as a writer and a person, he dealt more with universal situations. You could say his overarching theme was the dysfunctional family, which I think anybody can relate to, because all our families were to some degree dysfunctional. He drew on his own youth and on his own experience as a parent, and the themes that recur in his books are things that were crucial to his own life.

Posted by at May 21, 2015 4:59 PM

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