Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Raymond Chandler: The Little Sister

Thought I'd take a break from inscrutable South Asian literature for a while, but this pulp fiction from the '40's in America was even more difficult to comprehend.

I could make no sense of any of the conversations.  I suspected that the hero, Marlowe, was figuring out the case and making wise cracks - but I could never figure out how he knew what he knew and why he was said what he said.

He appears to be a deeply depressed loser with a Quixotic sense of doing good deeds but no capacity to help anyone, including himself.

Everyone in the story is either cynical or criminal -- and the physical world he  describes is dismal.

"The corridor had a smell of old carpet and furniture oil and had the drab anonymity of a thousand shabby lives"

It's not surprising that the author was known to be alcoholic.

His only achievement is staying alive -- which, I suppose, is remarkable considering how often he blunders into dangerous situations.

But the unrelenting doom is occasionally interrupted by charming metaphors:

"She has a low lingering voice with a sort of moist caress in it like a damp bath towel."

And some beat-poetic descriptions:

"I drove on past the gaudy neons and the false fronts behind them, the sleazy hamburger joints that look like palaces under the colors, the circular drive-ins as gay as circuses with the chipper, hard-eyed car hops. The gritty counters and the sweaty greasy kitchens that could have poisoned a toad"

And this three-page ode to the sensation of being drugged:

"Then it wasn't Napoleon's tomb any more. It was a raft on a swell. There was a man on it. I'd seen him somewhere. Nice fellow. We'd got on fine. I started towards him and hit a wall with my shoulder. That spun me around. I started clawing for something to hold on to. There was nothing but the carpet. How did I get down there? No use asking. It's a secret. Every time you ask a question they just push the floor in your face. Okay, I started to crawl along the carpet. I was on what formerly had been my hands and knees. No sensation proved it. I crawled towards a dark wooden wall. Or it could have been black marble. Napoleon's tomb again. What did I ever do to Napoleon? What for should he keep shoving his tomb at me"

By the way, Chandler's Marlowe is quite different from the Marlowe enacted by James Garner in the film adaptation.   Garner made him light hearted, happy, and pleased with himself.

The original Marlowe was periodically cautioning himself to "stay human"


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