|(Ross Macdonald wearing a fedora)|
That second aspect is the depravity of the dog-eat-dog American suburbs. Here are four extracts from The Galton Case:
"Flowers bloomed competitively in the yards."The first image is striking even if the sentiment is dated. The next two extracts can have little impact on later generations whose views of the suburbs were shaped by "Pleasant Valley Sunday." The fourth is just wince-makingly bathetic today, however it may have seemed to readers when The Galton Case was published in 1959.
"Arroyo Park was an economic battleground where managers and professional people matched wits and incomes."
"The commuters in their uniforms, hat on head, briefcase in hand ... It was a junior-executive residential section."
"You wouldn't want to to get around that I didn't do my share ... You don't want to shame me in front of my friends. [this from a housewife trying to talk into her husband into buying cake for a church supper. And where does she want him to buy the cake? "You know the bakery at the shopping center."]
Once upon a time in America, starting sometime after World War II and fizzling out in the mid-1960s, suburbs and their new accessibility to middle-class homebuyers were objects of fascination, horror, and fevered imaginings. The Galton Case appeared three years after the novel Peyton Place. I'm just old enough to remember Dave Berg poking amused fun at the suburbs in Mad magazine.
But the novelty wore off, generations grew up in the burbs, and their depravities and social pathologies were absorbed into popular culture and forgotten.
I reflected several times while reading The Galton Case how odd it was that the trappings of a story published in 1959 should feel stale, while those of Dashiell Hammett's stories, from thirty and more years before, should feel fresh. Why is this? It's not enough to suggest that Hammett was a better writer than Macdonald, because chip away the social trappings, and The Galton Case is a thrilling family drama with a virtuoso twist.
I'm just old enough to remember the tail end of the world for which Ross Macdonald wrote The Galton Case. Hammett's world, on the other hand is remote and hence new. Is that why it seems fresher to me than Macdonald's? Why do some old stories date poorly? Why do others seem thrillingly fresh?
© Peter Rozovsky 2011