Warning: The following contains some opinion stated as fact, which doesn’t mean it isn’t open to reasonable discussion.
Curtis Evans on Carr’s In Spite of Thunder:
Like a lot of later Carr novels, there’s the germ for a terrific short story. The problem comes from Carr’s effort to build a full-length novel around it.
This is a very good point, and one that illustrates quite well the swift decline of Carr’s imaginative and writing skills at this stage of his career. One may add that ISOT might indeed have been a terrific short story, had Carr still written short fiction, which he no longer did. It is a long-held and completely subjective theory of mine that short stories act as kind of a barometer for a writer’s « health » and Carr demonstrates that. While never primarily known as a short story writer, he still was a regular and brilliant practicioner in his heyday and while his novel work showed a steep decline in the decade following WWII, his shorter fiction retained for a time a high level of quality, some of it ranking with his best work.
The problem is, Carr by the time ISOT came out had stopped writing short stories altogether to focus exclusively on novels, the probable result of a conjunction of a dearth of ideas and basic market requirements. Not everyone can enjoy Stanley Ellin’s creative freedom and content oneself with writing one short story a year and a novel only when one feels like it. (There is a whole article, even a book, to be written about the high productivity expected from popular writers and its often negative effects on their work.)
This aspect of Carr’s trajectory reminds one a lot of that of his fellow crime fiction giant, Agatha Christie, whose short story work once prolific became increasingly rarer as she aged and her skills waned. The lesson for wannabe writers is a clear one: if you can’t even muster ideas to write a tale, don’t bother writing a novel. Whether this lesson can really be applied in real life when you have to make a living, remains to be seen. It is unfortunate at any rate that crime writers unlike their literary colleagues, are so rarely allowed to retire when they’re no longer at the top of their game.