As I may have posted before, I’m rereading my favorite detective series – John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels – in order. One of the series’ many delights is anthropological. Bachelor (and how!) McGee spends the first four or five books in the 1960s of Brubeck and Hefner. The next half-dozen are set very much in the ’60s of the Beatles, more-or-less harmless recreational drugs, and unselfconscious sex.
Well. I just finished A Tan and Sandy Silence. Published in 1972, it’s the thirteenth McGee book and the first with a ’70s vibe (The Long Lavendar Look, while published in 1970, is a ’60s straggler in tone).
I’m astonished at how Tan and Sandy catches the post-Altamont shift in the nation’s mood. Gone are the flocks of beach bunnies who populated the early books; they’re replaced by a cult of nudist retro-fundamentalists who are miserable with crab lice (I kid you not). Carefree one-on-one flings, fueled by booze and enjoyed by both parties, are replaced by a sort of floating whorehouse. The antagonist is a blossoming sadist, and the sexual jollies he gets with his victims (male and female) are hinted at, if never spelled out. The feeling, overall, is of depravity, of a center not holding, of consequences not anticipated by Kesey & Hefner & Co.
Which is to say the book is a perfect anticipation of the 1970s.
MacDonald’s gift in this regard is unparalleled. It’s been awhile since I read all the McGees, so I look forward to seeing whether the books capture the feel of the 1980s with similar eerie accuracy.