If I was proficient in another language, I could no doubt use an exotic phrase or reference to describe the feeling I am currently experiencing.
But I’m not.
So I can’t.
Thus I am left with the English Language (such that it is) with all of its 26 letters (such that they are) to describe the utter overwelm-ment of ennui I have thus far experienced in the month of August regarding words – on paper – in books.
If you could see me – I would be making a sad-orphan-cat-face (yes that is a thing)
just like that, sans bow tie.
I have had such a TERRIBLE reading space – so many books – too numerous to mention have been so unutterably awful that I couldn’t summon the energy to criticise them. My apathy has been such that I couldn’t even begin to care whether or not they were clogging the atmosphere with their trite, meaningless dialogue; their ridiculous mary sues; their gad-awful purple prose or their overly endowed heroes…
I KNOW….GASP (!)
I thought maybe it was a case of it’s not you it’s me syndrome, so I tried different genres to cleanse le palate. No success.
So what is a girl to do? When faced with horrible feeling of falling out of book love? When staring down the wrong end of a book’s spine, with only a empty bottle of wine and lost hopes and dreams for company?
Well – I don’t know about other girls – but this one???
She goes back to the classics. She pulls out the whiskey (neat); draws the shades (dark); dones some brogues (black); and gets herself some Raymond Chandler. (awesome).
Raymond Chandler. Even his name is just so dang cool.
Raymond Chandler is like the Dark Matter Gun in Quake 4. His novels absorb all terrible books within their radius, killing off most by sucking them into a black hole of book envy and plot jealousy…although some larger enemies may need a second shot to kill.
I only turn to them in times of great need – because you shouldn’t treat Chandler novels lightly – and (for myself) at least you only pull out the big guns when faced with the wrong end of a Tommy…or at least three sequential weeks of terrible, awful, no good, very bad, purple-spotted book-ness.
So here we are – With the great and eternally cool Chandler and Red Wind.
The nice thing about Red Wind (RW) is it’s actually a collection of short stories previously published in pulp crime fiction magazines in the early 30s. You can dip in and out of them at will, and because they’re short; they tend to pack a punch without a huge amount of set up. Some of Chandler’s novels, I find, are GOOD, but take a fair while to get to the point, which can, when you’re short on time, long on disappointment and medium on attention span, feel a little round-a-bout-ish.
His short stories are like a bypass to wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am action. (my favourite type of action 😉 )
These ones came from Dime Detective, Black Mask, and The Saturday Evening Post. I haven’t read this collection before – and boy was I missing out.
Dime Detectives in particular is so awesomely PULPY, with its covers of scantily clad femmes (there seems to be a high ratio of them in slips that are…er…slipping…) with bouffant hair, and scared expressions, either about to be murdered or escaping death by their shirt tails. There are equally lurid titles splashed across the covers as well: For thee I swing; Dolls of Death; Polly wants a Killer. I particularly liked: Sheath Your Claws, Hellcat! and the highly alliterative: Pardon My Poison & Death, My Darling Daughter.
In comparison, Chandler’s Red Wind, Blackmailers Don’t Shoot, I’ll Be Waiting, Goldfish and Guns at Cyrano’s seem refreshingly lacking in sensationalism.
Red Wind is the first one up, and it’s opening lines – ooh – they just grabbed me round the collar and hauled me straight into the story.
Chandler has this amazing way of setting a scene that feels like it’s being built up AROUND you, rather than you viewing it from the outside. There is a sense of PLACE that is so evocative you want to linger about, looking around to see what else you can discover. Sadly Chandler only shows you want is necessary to the story and no more — which makes it all the more tantalising really.
‘There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.’
The scene is set and we are in a relatively new pub with John Dalmas, (Private Dectective) getting a beer.
Everything is described in a detailed, yet inconsequential way, so that you’re not really sure what you should be paying attention to; which trivial piece of information is going to turn out to be important:
The Kid Bartender that ‘don’t like drunks; don’t like them getting drunk in here, and don’t like them in the first place..’
The drunk carefully and systematically getting sozzled at the other end of the bar;
The neat, cool but tense guy that comes in with the wind, looking for a dame ‘tall, pretty, brown hair, in a print bolero jacket over a crepe silk dress…’
All of a sudden the drunk isn’t drunk; the neat, cool but tense guy is dead, and Dalmas is drinking in the bar, waiting for the ‘prowl-car boys’, watching the dead guy’s face get ‘deader and deader’ and asking all the questions that are rapidly running through my mind:
Who is the girl in the print coat? Why had the guy left the car running? What was he in a hurry for? Had the drunk been waiting for him or just happened to be there??? So many questions dammit!
It all unfolds like a perfectly executed card trick from there. The dame appears, the baddies collide, the detectives are always way behind. Coincidence upon coincidence ratchets up, but it never seems unbelievable when you are rolling with world weary and jaded John Dalmas, who still manages to get caught by a speaking pair of brown eyes.
Then just when it seems like its going in one direction, the pearls appear.
‘Alright…tell me about the pearls. We have a murder and a mystery woman, and a mad killer and heroic rescue and a police detective framed into making a false report. Now we will have pearls.’
Where were the pearls?
Dalmas at his laconic best: ‘Yes, so far as I know, he could have hidden them anywhere in California, except in his pockets…’
Chandler’s descriptions are so VISCERAL – particularly when describing people. Faces are long and horse shaped, jaws are rawboned, eyes are black and glittering; smiles are tentative, but could be persuaded to be nice. And there is always this shocking, unusual element to their description that makes you snap out of the story and really think about how they must actually look.
(I remember in Farewell My Lovely, he described someone as looking about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food – Gah! I’ve never forgotten it).
In the world of Romancelandia, where hair is so often tresses, eyes limpid, lips pouting and chest heaving; where jaws are squared, chests are broad, and thighs are like tree trunks (really one the most unappealing descriptors ever – BUT it keeps on being used!). There is something so refreshingly unattractive about Chandler’s characters.
Let’s face it – there are a rather significant amount of less-than-Adonis-like people in the world and sometimes it is nice to encounter them within the pages of a novel as well. It stops you feeling like you accidentally wandered into an Hathor-ic temple and would at any moment be asked politely to leave because you didn’t quite make the cut…
not Hathor…but kinda close 🙂
But in Chandler-verse? People are all sorts; nasty, nice, attractive, ugly. Detectives are dicks, messages are teletyped and drinks are highballs. People get bashed up and fix it all with a stiff tipple. Murder is grisly and people are grislier.
Raymond Chandler: recommended for anything that ails you – particularly lassitude, lethergy and all sorts of malaise brought on by an over abundance of the Romance.
Dip a toe with Red Wind, and see what you think.
ValancyBlu: nursing a whisky and soda, shuffling a deck of cards and staring narrowed-eyed out a high-rise window with the blinds slatted. Because that is what you do in noir-dectective-mode.
5 thoughts on “Cats, Cabbages & Raymond Chandler (or how to fix the reading blues in one easy lesson…)”
When I was 12/13 I came across my father’s stash of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason books and I remember gobbling them all up. I just loved that whole 40s, 50s noir-ish era that was the setting for the stories, and from what I understand Chandler is a master at evoking that.
I came to know of Chandler only in the last couple of years, and then last year in December I came across a bit of a letter that he sent to his proofreader by way of his editor:
“By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have. I think your proofreader is kindly attempting to steady me on my feet, but much as I appreciate the solicitude, I am really able to steer a fairly clear course, provided I get both sidewalks and the street between.”
it tipped me quite a bit in the direction of looking him up.
your post just pushed me completely over the edge, and now i want to go check out a book by him right this moment! tell me if you have any specific reccs you think I should start with!
P.S. Did you know that John Banville writing as Benjamin Black wrote a new Phillip Marlowe book that was released last year? Hmm, I wonder if I should start with The Big Sleep. . . I think I want to start with a novel rather than a short story.
Ha ha – I was just going to suggest that one! (Theres a scene in a glass house early on which is really well done). As well as Lady in the Lake (that was the first one I ever read, and I giggled my way through it…) I think it had the quote about a dame looking good from 30 feet, but at 10 feet, realising she had been made up to look good from 30 feet – I was probably 15 and reading in class instead of working – I was unable to control my laughter, and ended up with a detention – but worth it, cos I finished the book whilst in it… 🙂
That letter quote is AMAZING – and so cleverly done – like anything Chandler I guess – but I love the proof that he wrote/talked to actual people like he wrote his books – that is AWESOME – thank you so much for sharing it – totally made my Monday! 🙂
Oh that sounds like the perfect blend of astuteness and wry humor! And you might enjoy this link:
and this one as well which actually has the full letter PLUS the poem that Chandler wrote in response to the proofreader’s reply:
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Thanks for the links. lol – that poem is like 10 shades of fantastic!
I love the last section with the punctuation…couplets? for lack of a better term?
Roll on, roll on, thou semicolon,
ye commas crisp and brown.
The apostrophe will stretch like toffee
When we nail the full stop down.
Oh, hand in hand with the ampersand
We’ll tread a measure brisk.
We’ll stroll all night by the delicate light
Of a well placed asterisk.
SOO good! They made me simultaneously hungry and helpless with laughter; completely proving that Raymond Chandler was such a dang cool cat! 🙂