“It was a sucker punch, not on the side of the angels. A single futile blow for the damned.”
Somewhere in the middle of Ross MacDonald’s The Way Some People Die, I got lost. Whereas Peter Cheney and Dashiell Hammett don’t allow me the freedom to slut out to other writers in the middle of reads, I couldn’t stay faithful to MacDonald. Matter of fact, I couldn’t even stay faithful to pulp. I cheated on dime crime novels with Joseph Conrad and William Faulkner (but even the Faulkner I read was the closest the Mississippi author ever got to noir).
When I returned to The Way Some People Die, somewhere at the 130 page mark of the Black Lizard print, I didn’t understand a damn thing. I finished it, still not understanding a damn thing. I felt the way I imagined Howard Hawks did when he was making The Big Sleep, confused, unsure of how the complex plot all fit together. He called Raymond Chandler and asked him how it worked. Chandler had an answer but it didn’t make sense either. In the end, Hawks learned that it didn’t matter if the plot made logical sense or not, it was damn exciting and fun to watch.
Maybe I learned the same from MacDonald. I let his words drench me like cheap whiskey, lots of it. I got drunk off his sentences, even the ones I could tell he tried too hard on. And in the end when his detective Lew Archer took three pages to monologue the explanation for the web of thievery and murder, and he ended the book on a sentimental note that made me cringe, I still knew one important thing: that most of the time Ross MacDonald knew how to write pulp.