Hard-Boiled Anxiety in Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald
Karydes, Karen Huston
Wyatt, David M.
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Between 1946 and 1976 Ross Macdonald produced eighteen Lew Archer novels, the heart of his achievement. The Archer series also extended the work begun by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Together these three writers invented the genre of hard-boiled detective fiction, gave it romantic voice, and used it to increasingly adaptive purposes. For Macdonald, writing his books got him to the far side of pain - to a place where he could make the best of the rest of his life. He had experienced childhood as full of predatory secrets and sexual shame. As soon as he could - and by 1936 both his parents had died - Macdonald reinvented himself and prevailed in this willed performance for twenty years. In 1956, when his own child was in terrible trouble, Macdonald got help for her and, finally, for himself. "Notes of a Son & Father" is the keystone of my project: an unpublished, confessional, harrowing accounting of Macdonald's childhood, marriage, and fatherhood, written for his psychiatrist. I was lucky to find it in the Kenneth and Margaret Millar Papers at the University of California at Irvine Libraries' Special Collections & Archives. A dime-store spiral notebook with 39 pages of small, tightly penciled handwriting: an anguished exercise in courage for Macdonald to write and then give over to readers like me who might come along. In the course of his psychoanalysis, Macdonald began to hope that he could, finally, write about his past in the guise of Freudian fables. In this effort, he extended the hard-boiled genre into emotional territory that Hammett and Chandler anticipated, but never occupied. This new work culminated in the last twelve Archer novels, the best of which are The Galton Case, The Chill, and The Underground Man. In these three works, Macdonald transforms the detective figure into a listener, a man devoted to uncovering not crime but rather the power and logic of archetypal complexes, family romances, folie a deux, the repetition compulsion, and the inversion theory.