Thursday, March 29, 2007

Archer at the Beach

It's been a while since I've read the Lew Archer novels, so I was thumbing my paperback copy of The Moving Target as I participated in an online discussion of the work last night.

I realized I've always thought of Lew Archer's California as a lot more sun-bleached and Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe's California as darker.

There are several factors at play for the Archer perception:

A.) No brainer: it's Californ-i-a.

2.) Many of the editions I own are from the '70s, and the artwork generally looks sunny.

iii.) Ross MacDonald does for sunny what Charles was talking about Robert E. Howard doing for black a while back in this post about the color of writing. Charles observed that Howard used the color black frequently, ultimately adding a dark mood to his work.

Many chapters in The Moving Target begin with mentions of the sun. Often it's setting but it's there, a lot, and I suspect upon examination it's mentioned in most of the Archer novels. He's always taken to tennis courts and beach houses, swimming pools and canyons in his investigations.

There's a scene that's always haunted me a bit in MacDonald's Sleeping Beauty. Archer sees sad-eyed children peering out the back window of a car with a bumper sticker that reads "Honk if you love Jesus." He queries: "Was this the promised land?"

I can't recall if he notes the car travelling in bright sunlight but that's the way I've always pictured it. Perhaps by that point, he didn't need to mention it at all because the work was already done.

I guess that's an affirmation of Charles' lesson if not a new point for writers, a testament to the power of subtle repition in creating an overall -- and lasting-- tone whether it be black, gray, sunny or something set beneath a waning gibbous moon.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Cormac McCarthy does something very similiar in The Road. It works brilliantly. It's something I should keep in mind for my own writing.

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