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Weird Rand Mention

This one's for the quirky. Don't be shy. I like quirky.

:)

I have been reading through the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald. Right smack in the middle of The Quick Red Fox (1964 - the fourth in the Travis McGee series), there is a description of a small city in California called Santa Rosita that Travis and a lady are driving through. At least I think it is a small city since I can't find it.

The story is typical for the mystery mixed with thriller genre. A movie star named Lysa Dean is being blackmailed with photographs of an orgy she once participated in (during a moment of emotional vulnerability, obviously :) ) and she hires Travis to dig up and obtain all the copies and discover who the blackmailer is. There we have it. Instant plot. Travis gets to contact--and have lethal adventures with--a list of colorful characters taken from the orgy photos while getting involved with the lovely assistant, Dana Holtzer, that Lysa Dean hired to help him. Dana is cold and frigid and, of course, Travis thaws her along the way as he gets the bad guy. :) 

As I have been discovering, MacDonald uses a quirky form of digression as part of his writing techniques. He sometimes has flights of fancy where he goes on a rant about groups or places within American society that he finds particularly superficial. This is probably to help explain or illustrate the why of Travis McGee's main lifestyle as a beach bum who lives on a houseboat (called The Busted Flush). Travis simply doesn't fit in.

During one of these rants in The Quick Red Fox, MacDonald mentioned Ayn Rand. This is the weirdest allusion to her I have read in popular entertainment. See for yourself.

Quote

Santa Rosita was a stunted version of the Santa Barbara code of existence. Three industries, electronics, plastics and tourists, and squeeze the bejaysus out of all three. It was sharing the big boom-boom. The incomparably dull tract houses, glitteringly new, were marching out across the hills, cluttered with identical station wagons, identical children, identical barbecues, identical tastes in flowers and television. You see, Virginia, there really is a Santa Rosita, full of plastic people, in plastic houses, in areas noduled by the vast basketry of their shopping centers. But do not blame them for being so tiresome and so utterly satisfied with themselves. Because, you see, there is no one left to tell them what they are and what they really should be doing.

The dullest wire services the world has ever seen fill their little monopoly newspapers with self-congratulatory pap. Their radio is unspeakable. Their television is geared to a minimal approval by thirty million of them. And anything thirty million people like, aside from their more private functions, is bound to be bad. Their schools are group-adjustment centers, fashioned to shame the rebellious. Their churches are weekly votes of confidence in God. Their politicians arc enormously likable, never saying a cross word. The goods they buy grow increasingly more shoddy each year, though brighter in color. For those who still read, they make do, for the most part, with the portentous gruntings of Uris, Wouk, Rand and others of that same witless ilk. Their magazine fare is fashioned by nervous committees.

You sec, dear, there is no one left to ask them a single troublesome question. Such as: Where have you been and where arc you going and is it worth it.

They are the Undisturbed. The Sleep-Lovers.

And they fill out an enormous number of forms every year, humbly and sincerely. Each one is given a number to use all his life.

Are they going to be awakened with a kiss? They feel vaguely uneasy about their young. My God, why can't these kids appreciate this best of all possible worlds? What's wrong with these restless punks? These . . . these goddam dropouts!

Virginia, dear, through the strange alchemy of the gods, there are a disproportionate number of kids coming along these days with IQ's that are soaring toward a level too high to measure. These kids have very cold eyes. They arc the ones who, one day, will stop playing with transistors, diodes and microcircuitry and look at Barrentown and start asking the rude questions. Or build a machine that will ask.

In the meanwhile, Virginia, Santa Rosita still exists, and it is as if some cynical genius had designed a huge complex penal colony in the sunshine, eliminating the need for guard towers and barbed wire by merely beaming a gigantic electronic message at the inmates, day and night, saying, You are in heaven! Be happy! It you can't be happy there, you can't be happy anywhere! Vote! Consume! Donate! And don't forget to use your number. 

Did you catch it? "... the portentous gruntings of Uris, Wouk, Rand and others of that same witless ilk."

I have read works by all three and I can think of many things to call them in common, but "portentous gruntings" and "witless" are not contenders. What on earth was MacDonald smoking when he wrote that? :)

Ditto for the Stepford Wives kind of people MacDonald gives that particular literary taste to. If he had mentioned Reader's Digest or Kahlil Gibran or novels by Irving Wallace or Arthur Hailey, I could see it. But Leon Uris, Herman Wouk and Ayn Rand? These are reading fare for middle-class overly commercialized Babbits of the 60's? 

It's kinda breathtaking. And weird as all hell. :) 

btw - Don't let this excerpt spoil any interest you may have in reading any Travis McGee book. The ones I have read so far are good stories with loads of entertainment value.

Michael

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Posted April  1, 2010 by Barbara Branden.

Tony: "This reminds me of the excellent thrillers of the critically ignored, incredibly popular, John D. MacDonald . . . I own the full collection."

MacDonald was a wonderful writer, who never received the critical understanding and acclaim he deserved. I, too, once owned all his books -- and I now regret that I gave them away. He once did something astonishing. I don't remember what book it was, but in the first two or three pages, he introduced nine or ten characters. each with only a sentence or two of characterization. But so striking and memorable were those characterizations that as the characters kept reappearing throughout the book, one never had to go back to see who any of them were. Enough said. I don't mean to change the subject of this thread, Barbara

"The fox has many tricks, the hedgehog only one. One good one" –Archilochus

Tony Garland wrote in 2015: Both John D. MacDonald and O'Brien terrific authors. I sort of passed by L'Amour, but he looks to be worth reading. Appears you enjoy a series, with a consistent central character, Peter. I'm reminded of Arkady the investigator, of Martin Cruz Smith's series. Gorky Park, etc. Another great writer.

William Scherk wrote in 2018: My mental imagery of Florida is forever ruined by John D MacDonald tales of corruption and criminality. It seems a vividly proud, restless, striving, changing place, with a dynamism of its own, fed perhaps by its in-migrating streams. Snowbirds in Florida would probably be among the least dynamic next to Forest Lawn.

And a John D. MacDonald quote: “Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn't blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won't cheat, then you know he never will.” 

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I think Rand mentioned John D. MacDonald. Was it in her interview with Tom Snyder? I don’t remember, but I think Rand liked his books. MacDonald was certainly a mish mash of ideas and not very consistent. I read all of his books and enjoyed them with an occasional shrug. Peter

Notes. Corporate greed and disaster? Like pages from a crime novel By Garry Emmons December 15, 2009 . . . DECADES LATER, the gig with the economy would end badly for the erstwhile saxophone player. But in the 1950s, jazz musician Alan Greenspan was just another cat under the spell of a dame, bewitched, bothered, and bewildered, in thrall to the novelist Ayn Rand and her torch song of laissez-faire business, free markets, and capitalist elitism.

If only the Fed chairman-in-training had swung to a different drummer. In 1957, for example, instead of Rand’s pie-in-the sky “Atlas Shrugged,’’ imagine if Greenspan had taken to heart another book published that year, John D. MacDonald’s “A Man of Affairs.’’ (The two authors were contemporaries and both sold well, but MacDonald was “the best novelist in America,’’ according to writer Pete Hamill.)

If only young Alan had shrugged off Rand for MacDonald, maybe we’d all be better off today. A hard-boiled crime writer who maintains legions of fans decades after his death, MacDonald had no illusions about how people and institutions behave when big sums of money are around. And because MacDonald actually knew how business works, he had a more trenchant view of American enterprise.

The son of an executive, MacDonald earned an MBA at Harvard (Robert McNamara was a classmate) and then spent several years in factories and industrial plants procuring matériel for the Army, an experience he later used in plots involving business.

MacDonald is best known for his paperback series starring Travis McGee, a private operative who takes care of violent bad guys but also rights financial wrongs perpetrated by slippery businessmen and corporate malefactors. To do this, McGee often calls upon the financial acumen of his brainy buddy Meyer, a “retired economist’’ who lives on a boat named the John Maynard Keynes.

But MacDonald also wrote nonviolent novels of contemporary American manners featuring organization men in corporate middle management or family businesses. These characters are dragged down by their own moral failings but also by the numbing impersonality of business and by predatory corporations and financiers. So while “Atlas Shrugged’’ is Rand’s paean to unbridled, heroic capitalism, personified in the character John Galt, in “A Man of Affairs,’’ MacDonald’s capitalist icon is a corporate raider named Mike Dean. In a tirade directed at the novel’s protagonist, Dean lays it out: “You sicken me. You pollyanna boys want to go around thinking the business world is honorable and reasonably decent . . . . Listen to me. There’s no more morality or ethics in industry than there is in that pack of barracudas out there . . . . I tell you that the only limitation is the law. And everything else goes.’’

Everything else indeed goes in MacDonald’s 1977 national bestseller “Condominium,’’ in which Florida developers and bankers are portrayed as environmental pillagers and corner-cutting fast-buck artists. A Katrina-like hurricane eventually collapses the slapdash apartment buildings the villains have constructed, killing the guilty and innocent alike. Lax oversight combined with business as usual is a recipe for disaster, MacDonald implies, a prescient moral for our recent economic cataclysm.

MacDonald, who died in 1986, once wrote that “no matter how much feeling of public obligation the executive staff of any corporation might possess, the corporate entity is involved in maximizing short and long run profit. . . . The old yardstick is deadly but we cannot abandon it because it is what makes our society function. But it is turning our land, from sea to shining sea, into a sour jungle, noisy, dirty, gritty, and infinitely depressing.’’

Unrestrained capitalism, MacDonald suggests, contains the seeds of its own destruction. And markets and powerful business forces, left to themselves, will seek to satiate their own, intrinsically amoral, needs - not unlike MacDonald’s terrifying sociopath Max Cady in “Cape Fear.’’

MacDonald apparently believed that no serious person could be influenced by Rand; even Travis McGee dismisses her writing as “portentous gruntings.’’ It was one of MacDonald’s few misjudgments. But as we now know, it was nothing compared with staking America’s well-being on a Randian belief in the inviolable sanctity, security, and wisdom of markets. Garry Emmons is a Cambridge-based business writer.

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56 minutes ago, Peter said:

MacDonald was certainly a mish mash of ideas and not very consistent. I read all of his books and enjoyed them with an occasional shrug.

Peter,

I've only read 4 of the  21 Travis McGee stories so far, but in these four, I found certain consistencies in Travis McGee himself. He's a reluctant knight of old in modern form. He's openly self-serving, more intelligent than he seems, and at times violent, but if the cause turns out to be unjust, count him out. Hell, he'll even turn on his employer. That means if the self-serving part has to be sacrificed for a higher moral good and justice, poetic or otherwise, count him in. He's reluctant to get into a fight, but once in, he's reluctant to stop until it has been settled.

Also, he's always on the lookout for a damsel in distress. Except the dragon he slays that is imprisoning her is always her own psychology, her own pain and insecurities caused by some trauma or other that only a bunch of psychobabble and a romp with a loving and considerate Real Man (like Travis) can cure. :) 

That always leads to an involvement, but she knows in the end that he has to move on, as does she, and she's cool with that...

Well, there is an exception. If she gets killed first (as one did), that part doesn't play out, but you can see it waiting in the wings.

Michael

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If you like MacDonald and Travis McGee, you might also enjoy James Lee Burke's series featuring the character Dave Robicheaux. Burke is a tremendous writer, and finds corruption and criminality in and around The Big Easy.

See Goodreads for more detail on the series. My favourite was Last Car to Elysian Fields. From a customer review at Amazon:

In "Last Car to Elysian Fields" fans of the Robicheaux series find their beloved but flawed hero moving into a new stage of his life. With wife Bootsie having died and daughter Alafair away at college, and his childhood home burned to the charred ground Robicheaux is presented with the opportunity to reboot his life. True to the dark beauty that is JLB's writing, it only takes a few pages to realize that Robicheaux, at least for the time being, is an emotional recidivist for whom such change is unobtainable.

Shackled by his dislike for the powerful and the greedy, sparked by his deep well of anger, and enabled by his friend Clete Purcell, Robicheaux lurches forward in yet another misadventure. Even in the search of truth and justice, Robicheaux manages to leave loss and despair in his wake.

For the JLB fan, this novel may not plow new territory; the writing is as strong as ever though, and this is Robicheaux just the way we know and love him.

 

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