JOHN D. MACDONALD, MY ABSURD VOICE, AND A WONDERFUL DOG NAMED RHU
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a recording studio to read short introductions that I had done for the Audible audiobook versions of eight John D. MacDonald novels. The late John D was arguably the greatest author of popular fiction in the 20th century; and his work is better than most of what passes for “literary” fiction. If I had to name two novelist heroes, Dickens and John D would make that short list. Therefore, being asked to write those introductions and read them in front of a microphone was not a chore; it was an honor.
I’ve often heard it said that everyone, upon hearing a recording of his voice, thinks he sounds absurd. I don’t believe this can be true. When James Earl Jones listens to himself as Darth Vader or in any of the many TV commercials that he has done, I’m sure he doesn’t obsess over the idea that he sounds like Donald Duck. I, on the other hand, do indeed sound like Donald Duck doing an imitation of Miss Piggy. The recording experience would have been an embarrassment if I didn’t trust the people at the studio to electronically enhance my voice to make me sound as eloquent and seductive as Cary Grant.
I’m pretty sure they can do that. In fact, after meeting their dog, I think they could do just about anything to which they put their minds. He’s a gangly, 60-pound mixed breed with an adorable face, rescued through the auspices of Best Friends, in Utah. His name is Rhubarb, Rhu for short, and though he is afflicted with a condition that makes it impossible for him to support himself on his own legs, he’s as happy as any dog that can run full tilt. His owners–parents, guardians, take your pick–have devised a wheeled cart in which Rhu is slung, legs dangling, paws protected by rubber booties. When they take him for a walk, he paddles his legs as if convinced that he is propelling himself, and his joy is palpable. Check him out at lifewithrhu.com.
One of the great things about John D. MacDonald’s suspenseful and often dark fiction is that it properly celebrates the virtues that make civilization possible and eschews the nihilism that lies at the heart of so many contemporary novels. Furthermore, in every MacDonald story, there are moments of quiet grace that reveal the human heart redeemed and the world as it was meant to be. In his body of work, there are no recording-studio owners with a dog like Rhu; but if he had ever met them, he would eventually have written characters based on them, for his books are rich with the details of real life, alive with the diversity of human experience, in the service of a philosophical point of view that celebrates truth and comes down solidly on the side of goodness, kindness.
Check out DEAD LOW TIDE, CAPE FEAR, A FLASH OF GREEN, A KEY TO THE SUITE, SLAM THE BIG DOOR, and other John D. MacDonald novels available from Audible as audiobooks. I have no doubt that you’ll be glad you did.