Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Literary time travel

One of my fondest memories of growing up was reading the magazines my folks subscribed to. The Saturday Evening Post was great for western short stories and The American was even better for mysteries. To name just two.

In 1986 Jon and Rita Breen edited a fine anthology called American Murders which reprinted 11 short novels from the American Magazine(1934-1954). By now I've probably read and reread it cover to cover four or five times. For me it's literary time travel.

My favorites are those short novels published during the war years. I suppose this is true because they tally with my first memories of--everything. Dads abroad at war, Moms struggling with jobs and kids and ration books and the fear of a uniformed man knocking on the door with bad news. And popular culture of every sort vibrant and vital with propaganda.

One of the great war-time images in the Breen anthology occurs in "Murder Goes To Market" by Mignon Eberhardt. She writes of going shopping with her ration book to a then-new concept known as a Supermarket. The way she describes this place is almost science-fictional. My God--aisles! Shopping carts "that look like perabulators!" And the choice of "(carrying) your loot away in a paper bag or in a market basket or (letting) a boy carry it for you." Zounds!

This reminds me of the way John D. MacDonald highlighted air-conditioning so often in his pulps stories of the Forties and his early paperbacks of the Fifties. A revolution was at hand!

F. Paul Wilson once noted that detective stories give us "snapshots" of an era better than any other kind of fiction. I certainly agree.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of the Fredric Brown story where a character vows if he got rich, he'd buy some good shirts -- rayon, no more silk.

Jerry House