For some time after the great John D. MacDonald died in 1986, there were rumors he’d written a final Travis McGee novel in which McGee – hero of MacDonald’s best-known work, boat bum, under-the-table salvage expert, knight in rusty armor on a swaybacked steed – died himself.
The rumors persisted, veered and flared awhile, as rumors do. MacDonald’s estate is in turmoil and is holding up publication! The book is narrated by Meyer, McGee’s sidekick! The title will surely feature the word “Black”! Then they petered out, as rumors also do.
I don’t know how much truth, if any, there was in all of this. And I no longer care.
Reason: I recently reread all the McGee books in order, as I do once a decade, and found MacDonald’s true farewell midway through the final novel in the series, The Lonely Silver Rain. Here it is:
Too many had gone away and too many had died. Without my realizing it, it had happened so slowly, I had moved a generation away from the beach people. To them I had become a sun-brown rough-looking fellow of an indeterminate age who did not quite understand their dialect, did not share their habits – either sexual or pharmacological – who thought their music unmusical, their lyrics banal and repetitive, a square fellow who read books and wore yesterday’s clothes. But the worst realization was that they bored me. The laughing, clean-limbed lovely young girls were as bright, functional and vapid as cereal boxes. And their young men – all hair and lethargy – were so laid back as to have become immobile. Meyer was increasingly grumpy, and sometimes almost hostile. I couldn’t remember the last time I had tried to stop laughing and couldn’t. I could hang around while the rest of the old friends slid away. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had twenty people aboard the Flush at the same time. When the green ripper dropped around and took the Alabama Tiger off for permanent and much-needed rest, the heirs had sold the ‘Bama Gal to a fellow who moved her around to Mobile. For a time ladies of an overwhelmingly female persuasion had stopped by to ask me where the hell the Tiger had gone. I told them he had died smiling, and they had toted him off to the family plot, and the longest floating house party in the world had at last ended. Always, they wept. The party was over.
If this isn’t a passage written by a man pondering his own mortality, I don’t know what is.