Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
This year, Thanksgiving is a time when two young American girls lost to their father a forfeit of twenty-five dollars each because they could not stand the official German food rationing system for two weeks.
It is a time when American magazines will go overseas, and they will contain pictures of our healthy families gathered around the well-set table. Remember that Norman Rockwell picture of a family at dinner? It was drawn as a part of that series of four to illustrate the four freedoms. Reproductions of that picture go overseas.
In many prisons where the convicts are permitted to read newspapers, someone goes over the papers first and cuts out any reference to crime. Maybe the United States periodicals that go over seas should have all reference to food removed.
Did you ever open a magazine and look at a color photograph of a great big steak, butter melting on top? We wonder how those advertisements strike such persona as Bill Mauldin's French philosopher— the man who said that a pessimist cuts off the loose end of his belt, while the optimist merely punches new holes.
Our ancestors gave thanks because they fought a wild and alien country with their hands and made the soil give them food. We give thanks because in this strange year of 1947, a blind throw of Fate's dice left us as an island in the midst of war, left us untouched by the hunger, cold and disease that afflict the rest of the world.
We must be thankful, but not complacent We are in the midst of the second armistice in the war that began in 1914. Somehow, during these years of uncertain peace, we must find the strength with which to protect this way of life which makes our Thanksgiving possible.
-- from John D MacDonald's weekly Clinton (New York) Courier column in the November 27, 1947 issue. Twenty-six years later the author would expand upon this sentiment in a more apocalyptic vein when Meyer frets about conspicuous consumption in The Scarlet Ruse.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
She begins to tell him her sad story. Her "people" were dead. (MacDonald's consistent use of the word "people" when he means "family" or "parents" -- not only here but in all of his work -- obviously must mean something, but that's a subject for another day.) She had married a marine who was killed and "his people, Kentucky people" wanted nothing to do with their son's widow. She worked in California and married an Air Force warrant officer, who "got in some kind of jam and had been given a dishonorable discharge." She later found that he already had a wife and two kids back in Maine. He left and she got sick. After spending some time in a hospital as a "charity case," Linda returned to her hometown, broke and broken, with "the heart taken out of her." It was only under circumstances such as these that a man like Paul would have a chance with a woman like Linda.
"... we went up to bed... She fooled around [in the bathroom] and I was in bed first. Finally she came out... and stood in the doorway with the light from the bathroom shining right through some sort of flimsy thing I'd never seen on her before... She stood there for a long time. As I said, I've never seen a better figure on a woman in my life. She turned the light off, finally, and I could hear the rustling of her as she came toward me in the darkness, hear the rustling, and then smell a new kind of heavy perfume she had put on, and then feel her strong arms around me as she brought her lips down on mine there in our dark bedroom."
Stella, unburdened by Paul's deep insecurities, immediately understands what is happening. The long periods she and Paul are forced to spend together while their respective spouses are gone brings them closer than they ever were as friendly neighbors, and they spend time going into town to shop and take long walks on the beach together. Paul has never thought of Stella as anything other than a "nice" woman who wasn't very attractive, but their closeness begins to change that. Interestingly, MacDonald saves his most descriptive prose for Stella, perhaps because she is the only "good" female in the story, or perhaps to serve as a red herring.
When Fawcett began reprinting the novels of MacDonald in the sixties, following the success of the Travis McGee series, Border Town Girl was one of the last to see daylight. It reappeared in July of 1969 and featured its most recognizable cover, a Robert McGinnis original featuring Linda in a purple shirt (and nothing else) holding a scope rifle next to her. Also depicted is one of the females from "Border Town Girl" with a large sombrero draped over her back, probably Diana Saybree. The re-publication was heavily reviewed by the press of the time, with the Chicago Tribune's Clarence Petersen (another longtime JDM fan and supporter) calling "Linda" "... one of MacDonald's best tales... [it] is as chilling as it is gratifying." Reviews appeared in Publisher's Weekly, the St. Petersburg Times, the Springfield Journal-Register, the Boca Raton News and the Buffalo Evening News. It was even reviewed in several British newspapers as well as in the Dublin Herald. Most were favorable and nearly all singled out "Linda" as the superior of the two novellas.
Twenty years later the USA Network produced its own adaptation, again as a made-for television movie (technically made-for-cable, I guess). It is a far more faithful version that maintains the novella's timeline without resorting to flashback and that retains much of MacDonald's original dialogue. Virginia Madson (another blonde!) plays the title role and Richard Thomas turns in a great performance as Paul, an actor whose physical appearance and demeanor has far more fidelity to the character that did Ed Nelson. But, as hard as the screenwriter and director tried, the feel of the characters never really comes across. Linda seems more of a venal, selfish woman-child than the evil character of the novella, and there are too many badly acted scenes to make this film worth recommending. There are several gratuitous scenes that were added by the filmmakers, including a near-tryst in a motel between Paul and Stella, that serve no real purpose. Still, Thomas comes across as closer to MacDonald's character than anyone, and it is for his performance that the film is worth watching. There's also a really neat touch in one of the beach scenes, showing Paul lying on a blanket with a paperback book spread open over his face. The book? Border Town Girl.