Now playing: Nothing. My head is pounding, between the pollen and the weird pressure (I hope it will rain and relieve both problems).
The headline on this entry is a quote from Raymond Chandler, my all-time favorite writer. And it’s really not even close. Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Faulkner are waving at Raymond in the distance. Chandler wrote detective stories, but that’s like saying Dean Smith coached basketball. Chandler’s command of the language was stellar. If his plots were convoluted and kind of violent, the words more than make up for it.
Here’s an example from the short story Red Wind.
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. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
Now that’s writing, the kind I aspire to. Chandler’s signature hero was Philip Marlowe, a tough-talking, tender-hearted man of action and words. Marlowe loved women, even the crooked ones – and most of the ones in Chandler’s books were. He loved booze. He did stupid things, but he was always true to himself and his client. He’s my role model in trying to do the right thing.
I guess the most famous of his books is The Big Sleep, mainly because of the Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name. It’s a good, if complicated, story. Even Chandler admitted he didn’t know who killed one character.
But my favorite is The Long Goodbye, a sprawling story about World War II friends and writers who don’t like what they write and coldhearted women and honor. Here’s a passage: “I seem to recall that you’re a Virginian, Mr. Endicott. In this country, we have a sort of historical fixation on Virginians. We think of them as the flower of southern chivalry and honor.” [I should remind you here that I’m a Virginian, so this passage intrigued me.]
I’ve read every piece of fiction he wrote, most of it multiple times. I’ve read Robert B. Parker’s take on Marlowe in Poodle Springs, which features the first four chapters of the book Chandler was working on when he died, and Perchance to Dream, a sequel to The Big Sleep. Parker’s true to the character, and he’s not bad, but it’s not the same. I’ve read a book of short stories by detective writers attempting Chandler’s style. It’s a mixed bag, but none of them are Chandler. No one will ever be.
When I worked at the magazine, one of the editors, we’ll call him “Fred,” liked to paraphrase quotes anytime they didn’t say something in the fewest possible words (and most speakers rarely do). I always joked about what “Fred” would do if he were Chandler’s editor for the following passage, also from Red Wind. (The speaker is a bartender.) He said: “I don’t like drunks in the first place and in the second place I don’t like them getting drunk in here, and in the third place I don’t like them in the first place.” I always figured “Fred” would change it to this: He didn’t like drunks.
Sometimes more is more.