Talked to Death: Show and Tell in Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald

Carl Malmgren


Abstract: Confronted with the gradual erosion of the once-stable signs of the Story—plot, character, motivation, and truth—Raymond Chandler turns to the other main component of narrative, Discourse, to discover a reliable ground, and finds it in the act of narration itself, the enunciation of the speaking subject.  In Chandler's fiction the detective's defiant Discourse finally masters the world's sad Story.  As a rule, Marlowe’s enunciation sticks to and rehearses the basic facts of the story.  Marlowe does from time to time engage in personal commentary, statements which make reference to his opinions concerning the characters or events of the fictional world, but he very rarely resorts to ideological commentary, sweeping statements about the culture or society he traverses.   He shows readers his world; he does not tell them about it.  In The Long Goodbye, however, he begins to hector the reader, indulging in ideological commentaries that convert his statements into lectures.  In the Travis McGee novels, John D. MacDonald continues this practice, allowing McGee to assume the magisterial privilege of telling readers any number of things, in effect talking them to death.  This essay focuses on Chandler’s The Long Goodbye and MacDonald’s A Deadly Shade of Gold to discuss the line of filiation between the two texts.


Chandler, MacDonald, Story, Discourse, The Long Goodbye, A Deadly Shade of Gold

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