The Travis McGee Book Club #1 – ‘The Deep Blue Good-by’

“The Deep Blue Good-by”


April 1964

Chookie McCall
Cathy Kerr
The Alabama Tiger
Junior Allen
Joe True
Catherine Berry
Rollo Urthis
Lois Atkinson
William Callowell
George Brell
Angie Brell
Lew Dagg
Gerry Brell
Hack Wicker

There is only one place this series could begin.

That’s onboard the Busted Flush, Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Lauderdale.  A 52-foot barge-type houseboat, a long-term berth.  The home of Travis McGee.

He’s sitting in his lounge, looking at his charts, idly contemplating a temporary move of the Flush.  Chookie McCall dances in his lounge, working on a piece she’s choreographing.  McGee’s admiring the view.  They’re both working. She asks him to clarify what he does for a living.

“You said if X has something valuable and Y comes along and takes it 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.”

He keeps half of anything he recovers and takes his retirement in chunks instead of waiting to turn sixty.  Chookie asks because she’s got this friend…

It’s an elegant set-up, and just like that, the hook is baited for the entire series  McGee’s whole lifestyle is defined fully by page four of the first book.  He’s not a cop.  He’s not a detective.  He’s not a superhero.  He doesn’t solve cases in any conventional sense.  He’s just a guy who can set a certain sort of situation right.

Chookie’s friend, Cathy Kerr, turns out to be a very definite lead.  She’s a dancer working for Chookie and she’s already on her way over when Chookie asks.  He’s not interested at first, but Cathy tells a compelling story about Junior Allen, a man who worked his way into her family in search of a fortune that her father may or may not have hidden somewhere.  When she was nine, in 1945, her father came home from the war.  He figured out some way to scam money while he was overseas, and he managed to bring it back.

Unfortunately, he killed a man during a drunken shore leave in San Francisco, so by the time he got home to Florida, he was a wanted man.  He went to jail for life in Leavenworth.  

During his brief time at home, he told his daughters that everything was going to be wonderful for them and that there would be all the money they would ever need.  Their father died in prison, and then not long after, a guy named Junior Allen showed up at their house.  He had been in prison with their father.  Cathy’s husband, Walter Kerr, had abandoned her, and Junior quickly moved in and took his place, the two of them living like man and wife.  Then their mother died, and Junior stepped up to help take care of them all, questioning them the whole time about their father’s habits.  

Then one morning, they woke up and found Junior gone, with two small markers by the driveway having been demolished in the night.  That was it.  He was just gone.  When he finally turned up three weeks later, he had moved into the home of a local rich woman, Mrs. Atkinson, and it was obvious that Junior had suddenly come into some money.  For example, he bought a new yacht, named it the Play Pen, and sailed away on it with Mrs. Atkinson.  Broke and desperate, Cathy moved to Miami to become a dancer and to try to earn some cash to support her little boy, and that’s how she met Chookie, who told her to tell her story to Travis.

Travis agrees to look into it, reluctantly, and starts his search with the people who sold the new yacht to Allen.  Travis takes the salesman, Joe True, to a bar to talk about Junior Allen.  He bought the boat for $24,000, using five different cashier’s checks from five different New York banks, plus a couple hundred extra in cash.  Like Cathy, Joe True describes Junior’s omnipresent smile.  

He goes back to see Cathy, hoping to learn more about her father, and she reveals that he was in Air Transport Command while in the Army.  She also describes her time with Junior Allen in more detail, and the picture that emerges is one of a powerful, charismatic ex-convict who took advantage of a lonely abandoned woman and who systematically forced himself on her to the point where she finally just gave up, accepting it as her fate.

Together, Cathy and Trav drive south to Candle Key, Florida, where Cathy grew up.  They go to see Christine, Cathy’s sister, so Trav can see what she remembers.  He leaves and drives into town to talk to Rollo Urthis, the manager at the Esso station where Junior Allen worked while he was living with Cathy.  Rollo tells Trav about how Junior came into money suddenly and quit.  He talks about all the theories about where Junior got the money, tells Trav how Junior is the kind of guy who can get women to do just about anything.  

On that note, Trav gets directions from Rollo to find Mrs. Atkinson’s house.  Trav finds her at home and when he mentions Junior Allen, she immediately gets sick to her stomach, sure that she’s either been given to Trav as a gift or sold to him.  When she finally realizes that he doesn’t know Junior and he’s here to help her, she collapses, breaks down completely.  He puts her to bed, goes to get Cathy, puts her on a bus back to Lauderdale, and then returns to help Lois Atkinson through her collapse.

He calls a doctor to come look at her, and he explains that she’s malnourished, hypersaturated with alcohol, and crippled by shock.  Whatever Junior Allen did to her, he basically left her broken on a fundamental level.  McGee stays to help her get some food back in her system and to also try to dry her out.  It’s hard work, and she has a few fits while she’s recovering, but she also finally starts to tell her story to him.  

She basically fell under the influence of Junior, almost like she fell down a hole, and when she describes what happened, it’s almost like she’s describing something she watched, not something that happened to her.  Once they left on Junior’s new boat, it became flat-out captivity, and she talks about the way he blocked her escape.  He kept her so drunk that she barely understood what was going on.  In Bimini, he brought a Haitian girl named Fancha onboard and made Lois participate in group sex.  Finally, once he felt like she was completely used up, he dropped her back at Candle Key, in the condition that McGee found her.  McGee leaves her house keys with a realtor, sells her car, files a change of address, and takes her back to Lauderdale to continue her recovery onboard his houseboat.

He goes to see Cathy, who’s guarded in her reaction at first, and she explains that she thought he had given up on helping her.  She picked up some mail that her father had sent to her mother during the war, and she shares it with Trav.  He reads the letters, makes a list of some names that appear in the letters.  Back on his boat, he asks Lois more questions and tells her that he’s going to take the money away from Junior Allen.  She tells him a story about how one afternoon on the boat, she remembers Fancha playing with a small blue marble, infuriating Junior in the process.  As a joke, she put the marble in her mouth, then jumped overboard into the water.  He grabbed a gun and started shooting at her, getting her attention, and once she got back onboard, he proceeded to beat the hell out of her as punishment.  Lois tried to find the gun when they went below deck, got caught, and Junior ordered Fancha to beat Lois while he watched.    

Travis heads to Manhattan, where he’s tracked down William Callowell, one of the names from Cathy’s father’s letters.  He tells Trav about his time with David Berry during the war, and he lays out some possibilities for how they were getting rich, including smuggling gold or trading in rupees.  He tells Trav there was one guy in particular who was very close to Berry, and he tells Trav where he can find George Brell.  That sends Trav to Harlingen, Texas, so that he can find and talk to Brell.  He calls home to check in on Lois, and she tells him that there was an urgent message from Chookie.  When he calls her, she tells him that Cathy was found beaten badly, fingers broken, unconscious on a beach.  She told the doctors that she wasn’t sure who did it, but Chookie was pretty sure it was Junior Allen based on the way Cathy was acting.  Trav asks her to check in on both women for him.

Once he gets to Harlingen, he finds a local beer joint and starts buying drinks for a talkative salesman he meets and then pumps the guy for information about George Brell.  He learns about his first wife who died, his various fast-food ventures and business partners, his second wife, and his new address.  Once the salesman leaves, Trav calls Brell and home and drops Callowell’s name.  Brell invites him out to the house, where there’s a dinner party in progress.  During the party, Trav goes wandering around the house and walks in on a teenage girl, Angie, and a teenage guy, Lew Dagg, engaged in some very heavy petting.  The kid takes a swing at Trav, who puts him down easily.  

The party breaks up, and Trav learns the girl is actually George’s youngest daughter, and George sees it as a big favor that Trav broke the couple up.  They go for a drive, end up at a private club, and George tells Trav that he owes him.  Trav asks him to repay the debt with information about David Berry.  He asks him as bluntly as possible.  “How much did Dave Berry steal overseas, how did he steal it and how did he smuggle it back into the States?”  Brell blanches at first, stonewalls Trav.  Finally, frustrated, Travis knocks him out and takes him back to his hotel room, where he puts him tied up into a shower and burns him until he talks.  Brell lays it out, and it’s fairly simple in the end:  gemstones, purchased with illegally earned cash, and smuggled back into the US hidden in custom-rebuilt canteens.  He finally takes George home, and he talks to Gerry, George’s much-younger second wife, about the unrest in the house.

Back in Lauderdale, Trav finds a happier, healthier Lois, on her way to recovery, and then goes to see Cathy in the hospital.  He asks her if it was Junior, and she tells him what happened.  Junior came to see her dance, and she went for a walk with him, hoping to resolve things.  She asked him to give her some of the money, just enough so she wouldn’t make trouble.  All that did was make him angry, and he beat her for saying it.  When Trav gets back to his boat, Lois makes a pass at him.  Things almost fall apart, but he makes her understand that she’s safe, and they end up spending one night together, which is exactly what she needs to feel like she’s past the experience with Junior.

Trav talks to a jewel dealer in New York and learns that Junior made a major impression during his trip to the city to sell off his first batch of stones.  Trav asks the dealer to send him a high-quality fake that he can use and then return, and then he goes looking for Junior’s boat, figuring he’s got to be somewhere in the area still.  He interrogates Lois until she remembers that Junior had to buy a new part for the boat from a local dealer.  He goes to Robinson-Rand, the dealer, to see if Junior’s picked up the part yet.  He talks to Hack Wicker, the salesman, and finds out that Junior’s scheduled to bring the boat in any time to have the new engine installed.  He goes to see Cathy again in the hospital, and she confesses that she hopes Travis has to kill Junior.  She also warns him that Junior is animal-mean.  When he gets back to the boat, Lois is freaking out because she just saw Junior gassing up his boat with a bunch of kids aboard.

Trav goes to talk to the guy who runs the gas station, and he tells Trav that he recognized one of the girls, a local named Deeleen.  Trav manages to track her down to a hotel where she’s living, the Citrus Inn, where she lives with another girl named Corry.  He drives out to the Citrus Inn and there, at the dock, he gets his first glimpse of the Play Pen.  He sees Junior Allen in shadows, sees that he’s got a bunch of teenagers onboard.  There’s a boy named Pete, a girl named Patty, and the roommates Deeleen and Corry, and based on the conversation he overhears, it’s apparent they’re planning a trip to the Bahamas, and the teens all think they’re hustling Junior.  

The next day, Trav goes back, determined to talk his way onto that trip.  He sees that Junior has already claimed Deeleen for himself, so he makes a play for Corry, and she takes the bait.  He spends some time on the boat with them before Junior finally shows up, and very quickly, Junior makes it clear that he’s not interested in having anyone along for the ride.  Trav sizes up the girls, and it’s clear to him that Patty is the one that Junior really wants to get out on the open waters.  She’s the only one in the group who is still inexperienced, pure, freshly scrubbed.  She’s a target, and Junior’s eager to get at her.  The other two girls are clearly familiar with the way things work, experienced, tarnished, and Junior couldn’t be less interested.  Pete is the only thing in Junior’s way at the moment, and Junior sees Trav as another potential obstacle.  Trav stays and spends a full day watching Junior close-up, making plans.  Finally, he heads back to his boat to make his final arrangements.

The fake gemstone shows up, and that’s the last piece of the puzzle.  When he calls the Citrus Inn the next morning, things have almost fallen apart.  Corry and Pete ended up running off, and Patty almost dropped out of the trip.  Trav realizes from the story that Deeleen tells that Junior Allen intentionally manipulated the situation to get himself alone on the boat with Deeleen and Patty.  Deeleen asks Trav to come by that night for a farewell drink and tells him that if he likes Patty, maybe she can talk Junior into taking him along for the trip.

As they drink that night, Trav drugs Deeleen’s drink, and she ends up going to sleep early.  A phone call comes in for Junior, and he gets off the boat to go take the call.  Trav whips into action, leaving the fake gemstone out where Junior will see it, then hiding so he can watch Junior’s full reaction.  Sure enough, as soon as Junior sees the stone, he goes to the hiding place he’s had installed in the boat and pulls out his cash and the remaining gems to check them.  He wakes up Deeleen and smacks her around a little, then steps off the boat.  As soon as he does, Travis drops onto him.  It takes several major blows to the head, but he knocks him out finally.  He goes back into the boat, gets the money and the jewels, and is about to leave, totally successful, when he remembers that Junior has the fake stone in his pocket.  He goes back to get the the stone, and Junior wakes up, rolls over on his arm, and sets to work on him.  Trav fights back, but Junior gets the edge on him and knocks him out cold.

Trav wakes up on the boat, already out into the water, and Junior is already cornering Patty, hand up her skirt, arms pinned.  Trav’s still groggy, concussed, but he makes the only move he’s capable of, charging the two of them, throwing an arm around Patty, and then going off the boat together.  Junior takes a few shots at them, then takes off in the boat.  Trav and Patty struggle to shore, and he yells at her, saying he called her parents and told them about the planned cruise so they would stop her from going, but Patty says she snuck out.  She describes what happened when she showed up, and how she saw Travis on the boat, bleeding, and how a woman came down to the dock to look for him, only to get jumped by Junior.  Trav realizes Lois is still onboard Junior’s boat.  He takes Patty to a pay phone and calls the cops, telling them what happened and telling them where they can pick up Patty.  He drives back to the Busted Flush, cursing himself.

He borrows a speedboat from the Alabama Tiger, then heads out to try to find the Play Pen on the water.  He runs into a thunderstorm, and that’s when he spots the Play Pen.  He uses the cover of the storm to get close, then jumps from the speedboat to Junior’s boat.  They play a game of cat and mouse with Junior taking shots at Trav, and Trav realizes that Junior is working his way around to the speedboat, which he can use to get away.  What follows is a brutal fight, a genuine struggle for survival.  

In the midst of it, Junior spills all of his gems, and when he struggles to gather them, Trav takes the moment to hit him low and flip him up and off the boat, a bullet in his gut.  Trav tries to find something to throw to Junior, and he ends up smashing Junior in the head and shoulder with it instead.  He makes sure the women below deck are okay, and finds Lois barely breathing, badly beaten.  He finally goes back topside to pull in the anchor, and he gets a shock to the system when it brings up a very dead Junior Allen, that awful shark smile of his still in place.  Trav calls the Coast Guard for emergency help, and when he finally manages to get the Play Pen to land, he and Lois are both whisked to the hospital.  Trav is treated for his injuries, and Lois undergoes surgery.  Three days later, she dies in the hospital.

Trav takes the five stones he was able to find and takes them to New York.  He sells them and ends up with just north of twenty thousand dollars.  He calls Cathy to the boat and gives her all but a thousand dollars and his expenses, and they part ways finally, the first Travis McGee story concluded.

This was the first of four Travis McGee books published in the first year, and there were two in April alone.  McDonald took a running start at the series, and it’s sort of humbling to realize how machine-gun powerful he was as a writer.  He cranked through material, and in all of it, he had a voice, that same confident storyteller’s voice, marked in no small part by his willingness to digress.  He amazes me because he was not precious about his writing, and in the speed and the constancy of the thing, he just got got great at finding the music.

Because that’s what a Travis McGee book is.  It’s music.  It’s that voice, telling you that story in that particular way.  It is that world-weariness shot through with a need to make things right, and that broad base of knowledge of the things he needs, of his state, his home, and the past, present and future of the south Atlantic coast.  Yes, these are crime thrillers in the broadest sense, but he’s such a beast of a writer that I feel like he elevates pulp the same way Philip K. Dick elevates it.  They are great precisely because they do not feel that they are better than the stories they’re telling or the genres they’re working in.  They take their art seriously even at a gallop.  And that is what survives and endures when you go back to read these books.

I don’t think there’s anything in McDonald’s world view that needs to be apologized for as “a product of his times.”  I’ve read attacks on his work because of his attitudes towards women, but I think they’re mistaking plot mechanics for gender politics.  People around McGee do not have a great track record of survival, and the people he lets get the closest, aside from his best friend Meyer, are women.  So, yes, there is a pretty great chance that if you are the female lead in a McGee book, you should probably get your estate in order, but that’s not because McDonald thinks poorly of women or because he’s some cro-magnon anti-feminist.  I think people get crazy trying to turn characters into symbols for their entire gender sometimes.  I am aware that as time passes, our perspective on some writing changes.  For example, when you read the Ian Fleming Bond novels, they’re amazing, rich and cool and inventive and occasionally BREATHTAKINGLY racist, as in “Live and Let Die,” where Fleming writes much of the book in a disturbing Jamaican patois.  That’s embarrassing.  That’s something you have to warn people about before they stumble into it.  

There are plenty of writers like that, but McDonald is not one.  I think he’s a progressive thinker, or at least his McGee is, and I think he genuinely loved Florida with his whole heart.  He knew what sort of pain that opened him up for, too, and it drove much of his fiction.  It’s sort of amazing how there are writers that picked up his mantle so clearly, and I adore the work of Carl Hiaasen, for example.  I think he’s my second favorite Florida writer, and in the way he paints the world, and in his most famous character, a certain former Governor, there’s a hard-headed sense of justice that is scaled just about exactly on par with Travis McGee’s.  And it can’t be a coincidence that Dave Barry’s name, slightly misspelled, plays a key role in this first book.  Yes, I am suggesting that Dave Barry was created by the sheer hurricane strength of McDonald’s prose.  That’s how impressed I am by his Florida every time I return to the series.

First thing I noticed re-reading it this time is that for some reason, McDonald numbered the chapters in Spanish, something he doesn’t do in the entire rest of the series.  So we’ve got “catorce” chapters in this one for some reason.  Aside from that, much of the texture of the series is already in place.  We meet Miss Agnes in this book, his Rolls-Royce/pick-up truck, and the Alabama Tiger’s perpetual boat party is already rocking.  And with Junior Allen, McDonald demonstrated one of his greatest gifts as a writer, his ability to create genuinely scary villains for his books.  Remember, he wrote the novel “The Executioners,” which has been filmed twice now as “Cape Fear.”  His Max Cady is a perfect example of a McDonald villain.  Ruthless.  Unforgiving.  Evil without remorse.

Here, there’s a scene where Travis is studying Junior up close, his first real exposure to him, and he’s thinking about the way Junior is working his way through a particular type of woman, ruining each one he can get his hands on, moving on a younger and younger trajectory.  “Make a projection of his trend and his needs, and it might well end up with the jump-rope set, and then become murderous because smaller mouths would not stay closed.  Good old Dads.  Would honey like a nice boat ride on the nice man’s boat?  Would sweetie like a nice ten-day nightmare?”  Holy crap, that’s vivid.  He imagines Patty’s eventual end the same way, imagines how her jokes will eventually stop working and Junior will finally have his awful, awful way with her.  “Poor frantic little clown-girl, hiding the loveliness behind the heavy lenses, the shrill guffaw, the exaggerated gawkiness.  Have some nice candy, sweetheart, and go with the nice man in his car, and wave good-by to all your friends.”  Over the course of this series, we’re going to meet some real bastards, and the scary thing is just how ably McGee stands toe-to-toe with them.

Junior isn’t even onstage for most of this first book.  He’s a presence in conversation, an idea, and McGee has to keep earning his way towards his eventual confrontation with the monster.  McGee’s called himself a “knight errant,” and Junior is the dragon he’s chasing.  When we do finally meet the man, he lives up to his reputation quickly, and McDonald makes sure that last fight really hurts McGee.  When Lois dies, the way the news is delivered in prose is particularly blunt.  McDonald wants it to sting the reader the same way it stings McGee.  It’s a stupid, sad, empty death, and it starts our hero off on his series of adventures already wounded and sore.  That’s exactly how it should be.  

Junior’s methodology with women is disturbing stuff, and McDonald leaves much of it unstated.  In a way, it’s more upsetting because we see the after-effects on the women, so we’re just seeing the personal toll he takes.  It reminds me of a scene in “The Devil’s Double,” which just hit theaters, where Uday Hussein goes to a wedding, sees the bride, and decides he’s going to deflower her.  Right that moment.  Upstairs.  And there’s no discussion of whether or not it’s going to happen.  Uday says it’s going to happen, so it does.  His power comes from his father, from his position, from fear of retribution.  Junior Allen’s a different case.  His power comes from his understanding of how to play on the insecurities of one particular type of woman, and McDonald is very careful about how he lays out this guy’s pathology.

Each McGee case lays out very different challenges for McGee.  In this one, it’s the finding of the bad guy that is the difficult task.  McGee’s plan once he actually finds Junior comes together quickly and is put into effect promptly.  It’s not terribly complicated, but it’s good to see that when McGee is working, he’s not just stumbling around blind asking questions.  He can be a chess player.  There are some situations where you come in swinging, some when you approach with a smile, others that require an extra level of subtlety.  It just depends, and McGee proves to be very adaptable over the course of the series.  Here, we see him charm some information out of some people, bully it out of others, and misrepresent himself a few times with calculated precision.

Each new person he uses to get the next puzzle piece, it’s a chance for McDonald to etch a new memorable character, and he always has really nice supporting casts for McGee.  That’s part of the way he textures in his own particular vision of Florida.  We get a look at the nightclub/dinner theater Florida culture through Chookie and Cathy and their work, and we also get the first of many looks at marina culture.  The way he paints Candle Key as a small town is deadly accurate.  I spent most of my formative years in Florida, and he gets that cloistered community feeling right.  Everyone has an opinion about Lois and Cathy, and it’s all fueled by gossip and boredom.

We learn how the Busted Flush got its name in this one, and how it changed hands.  We also get some very specific descriptions of McGee physically.  McDonald actually named the character “Dallas McGee” in his first few attempts at the story, and it was only after the Kennedy assassination that he started searching for a new first name.  He took a few shots at writing a novel involving the character before he finally came upon the idea of using a color in each title and cracked it with this book.  The novels are definitely set in the time they were written, so they cover a full 20 years of changing America, and McDonald always seems to have a handle on the way culture is shifting around McGee, using the character to measure the way things change and the ways they stay the same.  You’ll see that as the series progresses, the weight of the passing years take a toll on him.  Just wait till we get to “The Green Ripper.”  You’ll see.

More than anything, I love that this feels so fully realized right away.  There are series where it obviously takes a few books for an author to really get a handle on what he’s doing, but in this case, McDonald did all of that before he ever published the first book, so what we’ve got here is the same Travis McGee who we’ll get to know over the next 20 books.  While there are other books with better villains or more of the digressions I love, I have a real fondness for the lean, no-nonsense qualities of “The Deep Blue Good-by,” and each time I’ve read it, I’m more impressed with it as a starting point.  If this really is where they plan to start with the films, with Paul Greengrass possibly directing Leonardo Di Caprio in the role, then I’m curious to see if they’ll keep it as small-scale and intimate as this, or if they’ll pump it up with car chases and fist fights.  The draft I tried to read before the horror overwhelmed me actually introduced Travis on a surfboard, riding a tube in to the beach.

No.  Please… no.

“Home is where the privacy is.  Draw all the opaque curtains, button the hatches, and with the whispering drone of the air conditioning masking all the sounds of the outside world, you are no longer cheek to jowl with the random activities aboard the neighbor craft.  You could be in a rocket beyond Venus, or under the icecap.”

“Never sit in the first row at the ballet.”

“I do not function too well on emotional motivations.  I am wary of them.  And I am wary of a lot of other things, such as plastic credit cards, payroll deductions, insurance programs, retirement benefits, savings accounts, Green Stamps, time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants, check lists, time payments, political parties, lending libraries, television, actresses, junior chambers of commerce, pageants, progress, and manifest destiny.

I am wary of the whole dreary deadening structured mess we have built into such a glittering top-heavy structure that there is nothing left to see but the glitter, and the brute routines of maintaining it.”

“These are the playmate years, and they are demonstrably fraudulent.  The scene is reputed to be acrawl with adorably amoral bunnies to whom sex is a pleasant social favor.  The new culture.  And they are indeed present and available, in exhausting quantity, but there is a curious tastelessness about them.  A woman who does not guard and treasure herself cannot be very much value to anyone else.  They become a pretty little convenience, like a guest towel.  And the cute little things they say, and their dainty little squeals of pleasure and release are as contrived as the embroidered initials on the guest towels.  Only a woman of pride, complexity and emotional tension is genuinely worth the act of love, and there are only two ways to get yourself one of them.  Either you lie, and stain the relationship with your own sense of guile, or you accept the involvement, the emotional responsibility, the permanence she must by nature crave.  I love you can be said only two ways.”

“The worst crimes of man against woman do not appear on the statutes.  A smiling man, quick and handy as a cat, webbed with muscle, armored with money, now at liberty in an unsuspecting world, greedy as a weasel in a hen house.  I knew the motive.  The motive was murder.  And this symbolic killing might easily be followed by the more literal act.  

Sly and reckless, compulsive and bold.  The goat-god, with hoof and smile and hairy ears, satyr at the helm of the Play Pen.

Love him, understand him, forgive him, lead him shyly to Freud, or Jesus.

Or else take the contemporary untenable position that evil, undiluted by any hint of childhood trauma, does exist in the world, exists for its own precise sake, the pustular bequest from the beast, as inexplicable as Belsen.”

“Bless them all, the forlorn little rabbits.  They are the displaced persons of our emotional culture.  They are ravenous for romance, yet settle for what they call making out.  Their futile, acne-pitted men drift out of high school into a world so surfeited with unskilled labor there is competition for bag-boy jobs in the supermarkets.  They yearn for security, but all they can have is what they make for themselves, chittering little flocks of them in the restaurants and stores, talking of style and adornment, dreaming of the terribly sincere stranger who will come along and lift them out of the gypsy life of the two-bit tip and the unemployment, cut a tall cake with them, swell them up with sassy babies, and guide them masterfully into the shoal water of the electrified house where everybody brushes after every meal.  But most of the wistful rabbits marry their unskilled men, and keep right on working.  And discover the end of the dream.  They have been taught that if you are sunny, cheery, sincere, group-adjusted, popular, the world is yours, including barbecue pits, charge plates, diaper service, percale sheets, friends for dinner, washer-dryer combinations, color slides of the kiddies on the home projector, and eternal whimsical romance — with crinkly smiles and Rock Hudson dialogue.  So they all come smiling and confident and unskilled into a technician’s world, and in a few yeas they learn that is all going to be grinding and brutal and hateful and precarious.  These are the slums of the heart.  Bless the bunnies.  These are the new people, and we are making no place for them.  We hold the dream in front of them like a carrot, and finally say sorry you can’t have any.  And the schools where we teach them non-survival are gloriously architectures.  They will never live in places so fine, unless they contract something incurable.”


We’ll be back on September 1st with our look at “Nightmare In Pink,” and if you enjoyed this first book in the series and you enjoyed the conversation here, please recruit more people to join the TMBC.  We’re going to keep this up, month after month, until we reach “The Lonely Silver Rain” in April of 2013.  That’s a long haul, but I’m hoping by the time we’re done, we’ve grown exponentially and we’ve managed to make John D. McDonald as ubiquitous as he should be again.  Eventually, if everything works out, we’ll have created the single best archive of Travis McGee reviews and conversations anywhere online, and all of you who participate are going to be part of that.

This series is dedicated to my father, who always had a McGee or two in the house, and whose love for the character made me curious enough to pick one up in the first place.

See you back here for more in a month.

“What Is The Travis McGee Book Club?”