“The Dreadful Lemon Sky”: John D. MacDonald

lemonWe’re back on the familiar Busted Flush where a once-pretty and now bedraggled woman in distress visits Travis McGee to launch the storyline. By midbook, the houseboat is in need of patching up and so is our hero. After some sleepy early chapters of investigative type stuff, all hell breaks loose in one surprise paragraph. In between the action MacDonald enables McGee to give us all sorts of affirmations large and small about everyday life in America. Sometimes he drops a topical allusion to ID the timeframe of the story. Example: his 1970s Marantz stereo.

Travis McGee’s brainy friend Meyer has a more visible role as consiglieri, as well as fellow middle-aged exercise buff, gin drinker and panelist during long discussions of American issues. The soapbox dialog of Travis and Meyers (and others) sometimes sounds forced and wooden; for example these lines to a woman who’s visiting the boat:

“Joanna, I don’t know. A fellow who was pretty handy with a boat once said that anything you feel good after is moral. But that implies that the deed is unchanging and the doer is unchanging…”

It goes on for quite a while like that. I wished MacDonald had added a line showing the girl’s eyes spin.

Some of that sort of rhetoric is best left in McGee’s interior monologue, as in the instance when he gives a brief and poignant opinion of how damn little the world cares when we are temporarily knocked out of the picture. Or are gone for good. It’s a succinct mini-essay fine as is, and it would sound, well – dreadful – if misplaced into dialog.

There are a couple more unread McGee’s on the shelf for sometime this summer. They’re good escapist fiction and sure beat what’s on cable.