Apr 28, 2008

cross-posted with my Slant Six blog...

I'm a huge fan of the mystery writer Ross Macdonald. Like better-known greats such as Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler, Macdonald had an unmistakable gift for voice and tone.

To the extent that he's famous, it's for his Lew Archer books -- a series of gritty yet surprisingly elegant and philosophical tales of love and corruption set against the backdrop of southern California in the mid-century. One of these -- The Moving Target -- was turned into a Paul Newman vehicle (as Harper).

Today I plucked his novel Blue City (an early, pre-Archer work) from my shelf and started reading. The opening lines floored me:

All the time you've been away from a town where you lived when you were a kid, you think about it and talk about it as if the air there were sweeter in the nostrils than other air. When you meet a man from that town you feel a kind of brotherhood with him, till the talk runs down and you can't remember any more names.

I'm a big believer in having a sense of place, an idea of the value of those places in which you've spent any time. I think each of them becomes a part of you, and I think it's important to recognize that fact and apply it to your work whenever possible. Macdonald's words strike a chord on that level. They read to me as not only a careful observation of human tendency but also a challenge to the reader to consider his or her own roots, and wonder what it might be like to remember and revisit them.