Why I Still Think About Ross McDonald

I grew up in Southern California & remember
riding in the backseat of a Bel Air Chevy, dreaming
some couple in a passing car were my real parents.

I'd wave to strangers half-hoping someone
would pull us over & exclaim tearfully—
There you are, our daughter, found at last.

Macdonald was trying to write something true
after his hard-knock youth was saved by books,
notably Dickens' Oliver Twist whose story felt

like Macdonald's own. His mysteries take place
mostly in 'Santa Theresa' that Macdonald bases
on Santa Barbara which—as it happens—

was the site of the one & only family vacation
my sadly mismatched parents ever attempted.
The motel proved small & dingy with broken

plumbing & the only view—torrential rain.
My dad stormed around. Dammit Jasmine
& so we drove back to LA the next day.

Macdonald's long-divorced detective Lew Archer
is often more counselor & confessor than gumshoe.
But he’s relentless even when a case looks solved.

He keeps digging & digging until masks fall away,
byzantine webs of deception unravel & sometimes,
just sometimes, the young 'innocents' are saved.

Macdonald had a Mennonite grandmother who
claimed she knew he'd 'come to no good end.'
In his novels, she's the cruel & vexatious crank.

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