Book written by Gregory MacDonald
If you have seen the Fletch movies, then you may struggle with what I am about to tell you. The books that inspired the movies were brilliant. They took the private eye mystery form and turned it on its head without using all those tired forms of parody that had come into play since Raymond Chandler first lay fingers on a typewriter. Have no misapprehensions, MacDonald wrote funny in addition to very, very well. The movies fall victim to the ’80s Hollywood inability to add subtext to comedy. This was before Anne Rice and J.K. Rowling expressed reservations about the film adaptations of their work. The powers controlling the green lights seemed to believe that the original text was nothing more than a leaping off point. For his part, MacDonald never said a public word against the movies, so he was a realist at the very least.
All of which brings us to Inspector Francis Xavier Flynn, a character introduced in the Fletch books and graced with his own series. Fiction is filled by leading men who you would not want for company, let alone find it possible to admire. We look to our stories for escape as often as not and not so much for betterment. The nature of all these anti- and semi-heroes suggests that we are letting loose with our lesser natures. That is fine. We find our entertainment where we must.
The artists doing the creating are just as invested in letting their inner demons fly free. I don’t mean just the recent spate of actual demons and wizards and other terrors. From Dickens through Star Wars, we have had millions of characters whose story arc took them from darkness to redemption. This allows the artist the freedom to show a “natural” progression from evil to good, mapping out a path for all of us to follow.
Wouldn’t it be nice
to find a few characters who start out good and simply stand there being role models? Isn’t that just a little closer to a reality that we rarely see portrayed in our art? Don’t most people get up in the morning with the intention of doing neither good nor bad? Don’t they simply stumble through the day doing basically all right guided by their own internal moral compass? Certainly, we would all say that of ourselves on on most days. As much as we are the protagonist of our own lives, we rarely see ourselves as the hero or the villain. We look outside ourselves for that. Flynn is our better natures carried through the day with the deft touch of a profoundly skilled writer.
Years ago, my sister-in-law, a great reader, noticed the profusion of MacDonald paperbacks on my shelf (acquired used, as early adulthood requires). After getting hooked, she made the observation that the author wrote better about real people in our time than anyone she had come across.
When you have been trained to accept stories that build through three or five acts with their climax and humorous denouement, or tragic ending with implicit moral, you also are trained to expect endings with closure. If you can’t imagine the characters going on with full lives, then maybe their lives and their stories mattered not so much.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 229 more to go.
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