An article called "The Second Generation of Hard-Boiled Writers" tells us that "Ross Macdonald brought Freudian analysis from the university, where millions of students were learning it, to explain to a mass public why good people do bad things."
In The Galton Case (1959) , some of the analysis is right out of a freshman class:
"But she held herself with adolescent awkwardness, immobilized by feelings she couldn't express."or:
"She walked away from me and her fear."How does the protagonist/narrator, Lew Archer, know this on first meetings with people he has never seen before?
Elsewhere, Macdonald, the eager amateur psychologist, shows, tells, and interprets what Macdonald the author would have been better off just showing:
"She tried to go on, but the words stuck in her throat. She plucked at the skin of her throat as if to dislodge them."A laconic author in the Hammett mode would have let the reader guess the reason for the throat-plucking. So, I suspect, would a Macdonald more comfortable with psychoanalysis and more confident that his readers would be, as well. Freudian psychology must have seemed more novel, more darkly exciting, in 1959 than it does today.
And how about "I had a delayed gestalt after I'd given up on the subject"? I think that's Macdonald's attempt to update the old something-bothered-me-but-I-couldn't-put-my-finger-on-it.-It-didn't-hit-me-till-later trope. But delayed gestalt? Delayed-effing-gestalt?
It may be significant that two of the wittier, less forced bits of psychological analysis in the book's first half come from characters other than Archer. Old Mrs. Galton "likes to dramatize herself. It's the only excitement she has left," the family lawyer says."She lives on emergencies," remarks a family servant.
But it's a hell of a story so far, and I can see why later crime writers worship Macdonald. Previous authors had made the long-buried family secret a motif. Macdonald made it the substance of this story, and he unfolds the suspense slowly and relentlessly.
This is my first real crack at a Macdonald novel, so my guesses could be dead wrong. But I suspect that his books got even better once he, er, internalized his psychological interests, got more comfortable with them, and learned how to have Archer express them more naturally and less like an enthusiastic recent convert.
© Peter Rozovsky 2011