SELF-PORTRAIT: Ceaselessly Into the Past by Ross Macdonald

SELF-PORTRAIT: Ceaselessly Into the Past

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One hesitates to disagree with the redoubtable Eudora Welty, but--contrary to her warm foreword here--this short collection of 21 occasional pieces by mysterygreat Macdonald doesn't really add up to an obliquely satisfying ""autobiography."" Still, Macdonald fans and others interested in detective fiction may find this worthwhile browsing. In a number of the essays (many of them written as introductions to Macdonald omnibuses and collections), Macdonald--a.k.a. Kenneth Millar--sketches in his basic life history: his Scots-Canadian newspapering ancestors; his meeting wife Margaret (the same exact description appears in two places); and, above all, his absent, loved/hated father--the source of the Oedipal trauma that led to his ""breakthrough"" novel, The Galton Case (which is dissected at length). He discusses the autobiographical elements in his Lew Archer character. He defends the literary place of the detective novel (""popular culture is not . . . at odds with high culture""), declaring his longtime passion for the Gothic tradition. He pays homage to Hammett, Chandler (""He wrote like a slumming angel""), Greene, Kenneth Fearing, and others; two pieces reflect his ecological concerns (the condor, oil spills); and, in a conversation with an unnamed interviewer, he expounds on his style in a way which won't surprise those who've found his most recent work (The Blue Hammer especially) self-conscious and murky: ""I think I am one of the few American detective story writers who have been fortunate enough to be able to learn from the poets how to handle imagery."" More than a little repetitious, then, and far from a full self-portrait--but a valuable resource for those seriously interested in the American detective-story.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1981
Publisher: Capra