Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Writing - When Casual Sex and One Night Stands Aren't An Option

by Bert Carson
The Philosophy of Travis McGee #2

In the world of serial characters, Sam Spade, Spenscer, Harry Bosch, Elvis Cole, Lucas Davenport, and many, many others, there are numerous points of agreement.  They are Detectives or private detectives.  They are funny or at least witty.  They never bother to look inward - they are much too sure of themselves.

And then along comes McGee.  Travis McGee, the creation, or extension or John D. MacDonald, sometimes its hard to tell which, who doesn't come close to fitting the mold.  He's not a detective, or even a private detective.  Travis is a salvage specialist.  That works this way (from Deep Blue Good Bye):
 
"Trav, honey?"
"Mmm?"
"Were you kidding me that time we talked about... about what you do for a living?"
"What did I say?"
"It sounded sort of strange, but I guess I believed you.  You said if X has something valuable and Y comes along and takes it away from him, and there is absolutely no way in the world X can ever get it back, then you come along and make a deal with X to get it back, and keep half.  Then you just... live on that until it starts to run out.  Is that the way it is, really?"

"It's a simplification, Chook, but reasonably accurate."

Travis McGee is not a detective or private detective.  But what he isn't is not the major difference between McGee and the rest of the pack.  It is what he is that makes the difference.  He is a man willing to examine his life, his motives, his fears, yep, fears.  Not something serial heroes are known for.

And then there's the point of this post.  Casual sex.  McGee is not interested in it, turns it down, and in each of the six books I've read so far, he explains why - in this excerpt from Bright Orange For The Shroud, Travis tells how he feels about sex and why -

"I was awake for a little while in the first gray of the false dawn, and heard the lovers.  It was a sound so faint it was not actually a sound, more a rhythm sensed.  It is a bed rhythm, strangely akin to a heartbeat, though softer.  Whum-fa, whum-fa, whum-fa.  As eternal, clinical, inevitable as the slow gallop of the heart itself.  And as basic to the race, reaching from percale back to the pallet of dried grasses in the cave corner.  A sound clean and true, a nastiness only to all those unfortunates who carry through their narrow days their own little hidden pools of nastiness, ready to spill it upon anything so real it frightens them.

Heard even in its most shoddy context, as through the papery walls of a convention motel, this life-beat could be diminished not to evil but to a kind of pathos, because then it was an attempt at affirmation between strangers, a way to try to stop all the clocks, a way to try to say: I live.

The billions upon billions of lives which have come and gone, and that small fraction now walking the world, came of this life-pulse, and to deny it dignity would be to diminish the blood and need and purpose of the race, make us all bawdy clowns, thrusting and bumping away in a ludicrous heat, shared by our own instinct."

McGee's philosophy is true, honest, and pertinent.  MacDonald's writing is the best I've ever read.  That's why I've fallen for Travis McGee, and his creator, John D. MacDonald, and if it's alright with you, I'll continue to share McGee's philosophy from time to time.