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June 11, 2013 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Raymond Chandler: The Master of Nasty
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (53 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, Chandler was a master of his style, as PKD or Murakami or Kafka (sui generis) were masters of theirs. I would add Atwood and a dozen others, but their styles have been a little more chameleonesque.

From the article: Hawks and Humphrey Bogart once telegrammed Chandler to ask him if a character was murdered or if he committed suicide. Chandler wired back saying he didn't know.

His plots could be a little labryinthe, but then, perhaps he was prescient: Look at Mullholand Drive!
posted by kozad at 7:21 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Though I don't really understand her
I love my sister, her name's Miranda
The boys from uptown they can't stand her
The more she denies them the more they demand her
But she just wants to lay in bed all night
Reading Raymond Chandler

posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:25 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you've never read him, do yourself a favor and pick up The Big Sleep. It's got a quick-moving plot and is the source of the "Wait, who shot the driver?" quote.
posted by Eddie Mars at 7:28 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


By the way, don't let anyone tell you that "Raymond Chandler said that chess is the most elaborate waste of intelligence outside of an advertising agency". Marlowe says something like that, not about chess as such, but about a specific, and fictional, game that he's finished playing over. (Did he ever play an actual game against a person?) .

These bogus quotes get copied from site to site until they have a life of their own, of course.
posted by thelonius at 7:35 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Big Sleep is fun. The Long Goodbye is Chandler's masterpiece, and his greatest contribution to American literature. I'm still glad I read it first; if I'd read anything else first, I would have thought him fun but wondered if he was worth pursuing. So there's my recommendation.

(But the difference, plot-wise, is that The Big Sleep has a quick-moving labyrinthine plot, where as The Long Goodbye has a long, sprawling labyrinthine plot, to the point where the confusion over who shot who fades into an existential quandary, and you gradually begin to wonder if it really matters who shot who in the face of the achingly poignant sense of loss that characterizes human life.)
posted by koeselitz at 7:36 PM on June 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think it was Hammett who said that the different between "Detective Fiction" and "Hardboiled Fiction" was that in DF, Solving the mystery is the goal of the whole enterprise. Each scene is about bringing the detective closer to the "It was Col Mustard in the Library w/ the candlestick" moment.

In HF, the scene itself is what's important. The interactions between th characters, the dialog and banter. Finding out whodunit is often of secondary importance to the story, if not in the way altogether.

Great article. And btw, the noir/Hardboiled form is alive and well
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:37 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you're somehow unacquainted with Chandler you're in for a treat, but take this article with a lot of salt. This writer's perspective says a good deal about himself but is a bit of a cockeyed take on Chandler and I think he does Marlowe a huge and diminishing disservice. In a way I think he misses the point completely. Marlowe is in the world he describes, and even belongs to it, but he is not entirely of it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:46 PM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


What George_Spiggot said.

I think he especially gets this bit wrongity wrong wrong:

In the pages of the novels, Marlowe isn't the virtuous character that Chandler described in his 1950 essay, "The Simple Art of Murder," in which he wrote famously, "down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." Throughout the novels Marlowe is a tarnished knight and mean, too, though on the whole critics, readers, and biographers haven't noticed this fact.
posted by juv3nal at 7:52 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Couldn't agree more, Koesilitz. The Long Goodbye is a genuine out-and-out classic, and demands to be read.
posted by smoke at 8:01 PM on June 11, 2013


I agree with you, too, George.

On Marlowe, I think poor Phil has been swamped by a legion of one-dimensional private dicks that scooped up the accoutrements of Marlowe with ease, but nothing of his essence or depth.

He in infinitely more self-aware than the archetype gives credit for. A broken man in a broken milieu, holding himself together with alcohol, misanthropy, etc. I remember reading a piece once which talked about a huge, unspoken presence in the Marlowe novels - WWII, and its corrosive effects on the generation of men that returned from it.

I've always thought of Marlowe as someone with post-traumatic stress, you know. He is disgusted with himself for being so weak as to despise the petty vagaries of LA, when he has seen and no doubt done so much worse, but also attracted to his disgust, I think, because it keeps him human, keeps him separate from the others, and above them in way. Of course, he's aware of the hypocrisy of this, when he drinks and depraves like the rest of them.

Complex man, trying to love himself, or find something to love. Succeeding fitfully, sometimes because sometimes in spite of himself.
posted by smoke at 8:09 PM on June 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Also, I would take Chandler's prose over Hemingway's anyway - such a shame, the way genre has stigmatised some of our greatest writers.
posted by smoke at 8:09 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Simple Art Of Murder Chandler's essay on "Hard Boiled" crime fiction, referenced in the essay linked above, is worth reading in its entirety.

It's really interesting to compare Hammett to Chandler; Chandler could write better, at his best he could write a line that sparked of the page. I find I like Hammett's books better than Chandlers though. One big reason I'm realizing is the way each of them wrote women. Dinah Brand and Brigid O'Shaugnessey leap to mind, in a way that none of Chandler's female characters really do for me.

Chandler wrote about women the way an antiques expert might write about a series of porcelain sculptures. Hammett's women struck me as people. Dinah Brand, gluttonous, greedy, and abusive as she is, is also vital and capable. O'Shaugnessey is very nearly a match for Spade; indeed if Spade was slightly less of a bastard, she might have gotten away.
posted by Grimgrin at 8:10 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I went on a Hammett and Chandler reading binge about twenty years ago, tearing through almost all of their novels. I should go back an re-read The Long Goodbye or Little Sister, great stuff.
posted by octothorpe at 8:11 PM on June 11, 2013


Huge Chandler fan. Having read The Long Goodbye and nearly all of his books and short stories several times, and given the general portrayal of femme fatales, female characters in general, and Marlowe's (and Chandler's) general weirdness about with intimacy with women, I wonder if Chandler was harboring some latent queer feelings.

On the other hand, I tried to get my partner to read The Big Sleep and he basically stopped at the part where Marlowe goes into great detail about Vivian's legs. Tough call, but I don't agree that Marlowe is a "tarnished knight" — if anything, he is usually among the few virtuous characters in his world, one which is filled with crooked, bent cops and criminals who bend the laws for love for others or for themselves.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:11 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, I would take Chandler's prose over Hemingway's anyway - such a shame, the way genre has stigmatised some of our greatest writers.

In one of the books (a quick search tells me it's Farewell, My Lovely), there's a rather stupid plainclothes policeman with a very limited repertoire of comments, and Marlowe keeps addressing him as 'Hemingway'. The guy finally gets fed up and asks who this Hemingway fellow is. Marlowe replies "a guy who keeps saying the same thing over and over until you begin to believe it must be good."
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:24 PM on June 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


Thanks, Charlemagne, for making this a Raymond Chandler evening.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:25 PM on June 11, 2013


Minor thread hijack, since we seem to be discussing interesting crime books. I've been reading Donald Stark's Parker books over the last couple years and find them absolutely absorbing. Anyone's recommendations on similar tersely-written, cold-blooded crime novels would be more than welcome.

I've been meaning to check out Chandler for a long time - thanks for reminding me with the post.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:27 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


diablevert's comment made me look at Chandler a little differently, in a good way. I'm a huge Chandler fan.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:31 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Donald Stark's Parker books

That would be Richard Stark, aka Donald Westlake. You're right about how good they are. :D
posted by smoke at 8:45 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Contrary to the reoccurring theme of Raskin's article, one of the things I LIKE about Chandler is that he seems less sexist and racist than the usual 1930s author. His women are schemers but so are his men- everyone in his world is. There are far fewer 2-dimensional characters than I expect, and far fewer stereotypes. In fact, he calls out stereotyping when he sees it. I remember a conversation that went something like "You know those Hollywood actor types." And Marlowe replies: "Yeah, they're pretty much like everyone else."

I seem to remember that The Long Goodbye has some unfortunate racial stereotyping, but everyone else who was a stereotype was doing it on purpose. The gangsters had gotten their characters from the movies, so had the thuggish style cops, and the woman in The Little Sister (I think it was) who was the slutty Mexican or South American was actually someone from someplace decidedly non-exotic pretending to be an exotic foreigner. Even a lot of the other minority characters were acting stereotypically on purpose, because they knew it made life smoother when dealing with the dominant white culture. That seems like a lot of layers of consciousness for a 1930s/1940s pulp fiction detective novel.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:58 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Not only was it a lot of layers, it was handled very lightly, and efficiently by Chandler. It was just One. More. Way. that people weren't who they were pretending to be.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:01 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


That would be Richard Stark, aka Donald Westlake. You're right about how good they are. :D

Eeeyoops. I make this same mistake every time I go to the book store. I actually have quite a library of authors whose names I can never seem to remember.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 9:03 PM on June 11, 2013


Blazecock Pileon : Pearls are a Nuisance. It's one of my favourite Chandler stories because it's so laden with what can be taken as gay subtext. The closest I've come to slash fiction is wanting to write the further adventures of the two main charachters as a detective agency in 1930's - 40's LA.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:46 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


This author of this piece is by his own confession 61, at least; awfully old to still be a sentimental schoolboy, but he manages.


He in infinitely more self-aware than the archetype gives credit for. A broken man in a broken milieu, holding himself together with alcohol, misanthropy, etc. I remember reading a piece once which talked about a huge, unspoken presence in the Marlowe novels - WWII, and its corrosive effects on the generation of men that returned from it.



I think you're wrong, smoke, about the grubby grey world of the books being much to do with WWII. It's the films they made of the books that were post-war, the books were before the war or during it.

Personally, I've found the most interesting window into the municipal corruption in which Marlowe lives and breathes to be that rather unusual work of linguistics, The Big Con. Most instructive. The support structure to sustain a thriving professiobal criminal underclass --- by which we mean cops on the take, DAs in the pocket and the mayor, our very special friend --- all that had been in place for 30 years or more before Chandler ever put pen to paper. Not just in Chicago and LA, neither. Hot Springs, Arkansas was one of the con men's favourite stops for easy pickings, according to the Big Con, anyway. Lots of towns were wired the way Bay City's wired in Marlow's world; the noir works just talked about it openly.

Damn, it's powerful stuff, this hard-boiled gas, I seem to be slipping into it myself writing this comment. But in re the comment about Chandler being a better writer than Hammett or Hemingway --- Chandler definitely has more spectacular similes. But he's not actually all that good at people. That's part of what keeps him read and makes him memorable; he created entirely new archetypes. But they don't act much like how people act. Personally I think that's a requirement for a writer to be really good. Hemingway's better at that. Even his tertiary characters have more coherence and complexity as personalities than Chandler's. You always get the feeling that everybody he talks to fades away to nothing as soon as Marlowe turns his back on them...like, you could imagine a version of The Sun Also Rises written from Cohen's perspective. You can't imagine a version of The Big Sleep from Eddie Mars' perspective, because Eddie Mars isn't so much a person as something for Marlowe to sneer and snarl at.
posted by Diablevert at 10:06 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


But they don't act much like how people act. Personally I think that's a requirement for a writer to be really good.

I disagree with that. Too much particularity and inner life brings things away from the foggy, atmospheric, muddled world.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:52 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


"The Simple Art Of Murder," Chandler's essay on "Hard Boiled" crime fiction, referenced in the essay linked above, is worth reading in its entirety.

Hell yeah. My first thought at seeing this post was any article about Chandler's "nastiness" would surely be about "The Simple Art of Murder." Aside from providing that famous description of the psychology of the hard-boiled detective, it also savagely skewers the assumptions underlying the typical Golden Age mystery story by Christie, Sayers, et al. It's kind of unfair, actually, how nasty he gets, but it's funny, too:

There are much better plots by these same writers and by others of their school. There may be one somewhere that would really stand up under close scrutiny. It would be fun to read it, even if I did have to go back to page 47 and refresh my memory about exactly what time the second gardener potted the prize-winning tea-rose begonia.

And then there's this, which was quoted by George_Spiggott in a thread about scifi a few years back:

"Did you ever read what they call Science Fiction? It’s a scream. It’s written like this: ’I checked out with K19 on Adabaran III, and stepped out through the crummaliote hatch on my 22 Model Sirus Hardtop. I cocked the timeprojector in secondary and waded through the bright blue manda grass. My breath froze into pink pretzels. I flicked on the heat bars and the Bryllis ran swiftly on five legs, using the other two to send out crylon vibrations. The pressure was almost unbearable, but I caught the range on my wrist computer through the transparent cysicites. I pressed the trigger. The thin violet glow was ice-cold against the rust-colored mountains. The Brysllis shrank to half an inch long and I worked fast stepping on them with the poltex. But it wasn’t enough. The sudden brightness swung me round and the Fourth Moon had already risen. I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn’t enough."

- Raymond Chandler, in a letter to his agent, 1953.


Now *that's* nasty.
posted by mediareport at 11:23 PM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think you're wrong, smoke, about the grubby grey world of the books being much to do with WWII. It's the films they made of the books that were post-war, the books were before the war or during it.

You're completely right - I had projected setting of The Long Goodbye to all the books.
posted by smoke at 11:23 PM on June 11, 2013


I gotta recommend Farewell my Lovely over The Long Goodbye. The former's characters are much more precise, (? arguably not as developed... except no) and for my money it's 'easier' but no less rewarding/ poignant.

I realize this is akin to saying I prefer one kind if orange to another. I really really like oranges.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:46 PM on June 11, 2013


"...I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn’t enough."
- Raymond Chandler, in a letter to his agent, 1953.


wait
posted by rifflesby at 12:13 AM on June 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Great stuff: a discussion about Chandler is always welcome, and there's some great insights here. I would, though, agree that Raskin, the author of the linked article, certainly sees things very differently from how I've always read Chandler. For a start, although he's obviously right that Big Money and its evils are often central to the crime-impulse in Chandler, I wouldn't say that its an absolute over-riding obsession (which is one of the reason's Chandler's plots are so much more satisfying than, say, Ross Macdonald, from who the corruption of the upper classes really are a constant recurring theme): Chandler can and does write well about vice and criminal motivation across the entire social spectrum. Secondly, as others have pointed out, I do agree that the key to Marlowe is that he's so finely balanced between cynical violent brutality, and optimistic romanticised progressiveness. Raskin seems too concerned to stress the former of these, but Chandler was very careful to ensure that whenever Marlowe emphasises too strongly one of these positions, some contrary action will soon restore the balance. As for Chandler himself, he was clearly a profoundly complex person, and the difficulties of understanding him (and the difficulties he had understanding himself) are played out in full in The Long Goodbye, which features not one but three self-portraits: the usual Marlowe avatar (both cynical and romantic), Lennox the embittered war veteran (Chandler saw action in the trenches), and Wade the drunken hack novelist. The astonishing denouement of the book (and it really is a superb novel) hints remarkably at the dark problems of self-representation, self-deception, and the things we have do to ourselves just to keep on living in a world we've discovered simply does not care about us.
posted by hydatius at 3:54 AM on June 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


wait

Letters of Note says it's legit.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:55 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ross Macdonald

I've always been fascinated by the story about him participating in the intervention that Warren Zevon's loved ones staged. What did they do, call him up and ask what he thought about piano rockers, did he want to help one out? One of Zevon's friends must have already known him, I guess, or maybe he and Zevon already had some friendship.
posted by thelonius at 5:25 AM on June 12, 2013


I enjoy Chandler for his descriptive powers. A few carefully chosen, seemingly unimportant details, casual observations or stinging wisecracks make his fiction alive for me like few others. The plot or genre seem almost irrelevant. The effect may have been amplified in that I first read Chandler while living in LA...
posted by jim in austin at 5:58 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


For those of you who want to get further into the man The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Non-fiction, 1909-1959 is an interesting read.
posted by adamvasco at 6:31 AM on June 12, 2013


45 Calibrations of Raymond Chandler.
posted by adamvasco at 6:39 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't agree that Marlowe is a "tarnished knight" — if anything, he is usually among the few virtuous characters in his world

I think I'm in agreement with you, but I believe the idea is Marlowe is "tarnished" by choosing to stay in the world he recognizes as corrupt instead of moving away. He stays to help the truly deserving rather than saving himself. I think Chandler's exact words were "a shop-worn Paladin", which makes the distinction clearer.

I gotta recommend Farewell my Lovely over The Long Goodbye

Those are my two favorites, but I've come to really love The Long Goodbye. I've just about worn out the line "There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself". In the book I suppose it's a reference to the "shop-worn Paladin" idea, but I use it to remind myself there's no one to get angry at if you put yourself in the situation.

That would be Richard Stark, aka Donald Westlake. You're right about how good they are.

I've finally started on these via Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel versions. Highly recommended.
posted by yerfatma at 7:44 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn’t enough. He was right."

The quote seems a lot more prophetic when you omit the last sentence... All the same, Chandler was the man, and maybe he just figured Google would eventually have a cheesy AI personality like Siri.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:47 AM on June 12, 2013


Marlowe says something like that, not about chess as such, but about a specific, and fictional, game that he's finished playing over.

Jesus, I thought you were overstating it and assumed Google would let the cream rise to the top, but you ain't kidding.
"I filled a pipe, paraded the chessmen and inspected them for French shaves and loose buttons, and played a championship tournament game between Gortchakoff and Meninkin, seventy-two moves to a draw, a prize specimen of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, a battle without armor, a war without blood, and as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find anywhere outside an advertising agency."
And Google doesn't seem to have any idea what a "French shave" is. I'm assuming some kind of gambling reference to dice that have been modified for cheating.
posted by yerfatma at 7:48 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Suffice it that I submitted and went through with the cruel infliction of a shave by a French barber; tears of exquisite agony coursed down my cheeks now and then, but I survived. Then the incipient assassin held a basin of water under my chin and slopped its contents over my face, and into my bosom, and down the back of my neck, with a mean pretense of washing away the soap and blood. He dried my features with a towel and was going to comb my hair, but I asked to be excused. I said, with withering irony, that it was sufficient to be skinned---I declined to be scalped."

---from The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
posted by blob at 7:54 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not kidding! I guess he may have said this at dinner or to drinking companions, too, and also used it in his book. It's a great line. But people also quote him as saying "Poker is as elaborate a waste..." too

Thanks for digging up the quote.
posted by thelonius at 7:55 AM on June 12, 2013


Mediareport, thanks for that link back to George_Spiggott's comment:

Raymond Chandler, in a letter to his agent, 1953. Damn: "Google had told me it wasn't enough" in nineteen-fucking-fifty-three.

So awesome, and hilarious in the context of a scathing comment dissing science fiction...
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:47 AM on June 12, 2013


saulgoodman, yes, I confess to leaving that last sentence off deliberately. It was just too perfect. Google appears to be a real if extremely rare surname, rare enough to suspect that it originates a misspelling or corruption of another surname (as frequently happened at Ellis Island, for example). It existed -- possibly as a humorous sounding invention -- in the title of the comic strip "Barney Google and Snuffy Smith", which Chandler was unlikely never to have seen. Nowadays it's easy to find people who have no idea what comic strips are in the paper, but in those days the Funny Pages had a much more prominent role in American culture.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:27 AM on June 12, 2013


What an odd coincidence. My partner and I took turns reading Chandler aloud on a recent road trip and I just put down a short story collection of his to check today's Metafilter posts. I was actually trying to translate this gem of a sentence from Pickup on Noon Street: "Keep your paws down, see? Tinhorns are dust to me. Dangle!"

I mostly translated it using this great site, but I'm still stuck on "tinhorns." Cop sirens, maybe?
posted by Lieber Frau at 11:53 AM on June 12, 2013


World Wide Words has got your back, lieber Frau.
posted by Diablevert at 12:08 PM on June 12, 2013


A tinhorn is mostly a nobody pretending to be a somebody, particularly someone who shows up in a new crowd pretending to have money or status. It would have currency in the West because there was a constant influx of new people, so this sort of pretender would be familiar enough for a common pejorative term to exist.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:12 PM on June 12, 2013


Should have previewed, as I didn't know the etymology that Diablevert posted. I believe my definition of what it came to mean in the sort of context you're quoting is correct, though.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:14 PM on June 12, 2013


It's interesting that they call Bay City fictional. Seal Beach was originally called Bay City. (I discovered this last time I was home; my parents pick up interesting Orange County artifacts and it was in a pamphlet.) I may or may not be *based* on Santa Monica, but Chandler did spend time in Huntington Beach, presumably passing through Seal Beach on the way down — Bay City.
posted by dame at 1:48 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Grimgrin: “It's really interesting to compare Hammett to Chandler; Chandler could write better, at his best he could write a line that sparked of the page. I find I like Hammett's books better than Chandlers though. One big reason I'm realizing is the way each of them wrote women. Dinah Brand and Brigid O'Shaugnessey leap to mind, in a way that none of Chandler's female characters really do for me.”

Hm. I kind of agree with Diablevert on this – I mean: I actually think Hammett is a better writer than Chandler. Chandler is certainly a more spectacular writer, and loved writing qua writing itself more. I think Chandler liked the idea of being a writer maybe a little more than Hammett did, and (as Diablevert said) his similes were mores striking.

But Hammett's writing was superlative in a powerful yet subtle way. There's a story somewhere that Hammett apparently used to tell about when he was a teenager and working in a shop; he apparently showed up late to work one day, and his boss hauled him in the back and gave a long, angry rant about how he was going to fire Hammett unless he'd promise never, ever to be late ever again, because he just wouldn't put up with it. Hammett stared at him for about ten seconds, then fixed his boss with a steady gaze and said softly: "I don't think I can make that promise." His boss gave another angry rant saying he'd need to at least try to be on time – at least promise to try, for heaven's sake! Hammett just stared at him and said nothing. After a few awkward moments, the boss-man said: "ah, forget it – just get out there and go to work!" Hammett apparently loved to tell this story, saying he'd learned something essential that day.

That was it, really – the power of not saying anything. He was a great writer because he was so spare, and his style was so bare of emotionality and unnecessary feeling. One gets the feeling that he felt compelled to edit so much out of his novels – so that he said everything through implication and through allusion, and through the unrevealed inner lives of his incredibly rich characters. Even his first novel was deeply important – Cormac McCarthy owes almost the whole of his style and a key touchstone of his thematic direction to just that one book – and I really believe that Hammett's masterpiece, his fourth novel, is probably the most neglected novel in the American canon; its greatness ought to make it the most highly-regarded work of fiction of the early 1930s, as fruitful as that period may have been.
posted by koeselitz at 3:08 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


me: “Cormac McCarthy owes almost the whole of his style”

(Okay, that was probably going a tad too far. But I don't think it's going to far to say that McCarthy was certainly looking very closely at Red Harvest when he wrote Blood Meridian. If not exactly similar in style, the thematic starkness, the coldness, the clear-headed portrayal of the sickly stolid character of death – these things were all shared, and as far as I can tell Dashiell Hammett was the one true source of this literary mold. Even Raymond Chandler didn't really go in for that emotionless, flat confrontation of reality; for Chandler death was tragic, or stupid, or noble and sad, but not as drenched in nothingness as it was for Hammett – and later for McCarthy.)
posted by koeselitz at 3:14 PM on June 12, 2013


if anything, he is usually among the few virtuous characters in his world

What I enjoy is he's usually tough or smart enough to match about anyone in his world, but his most powerful trait is being simply human.

Read enough Chandler and that's always the appeal of Marlowe, he usually comes out on top by being smarter than tough guys, tougher than smart guys or any number of other things, but he's always coming from plain humanity:
“I got up on my feet and went over to the bowl in the corner and threw cold water on my face. After a little while I felt a little better, but very little. I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance. I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”
posted by Smedleyman at 4:04 PM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


me: “Cormac McCarthy owes almost the whole of his style”

Interesting. I don't care much for McCarthy and always find Hammett inferior to Chandler (for what I am moved by). This makes perfect sense!
posted by dame at 4:12 PM on June 12, 2013


dame: “I don't care much for McCarthy and always find Hammett inferior to Chandler (for what I am moved by). This makes perfect sense!”

For what it's worth, I probably prefer Hammett to McCarthy myself – although McCarthy is of course much more highly regarded. I would say this, though: people go on and on and on about Hammett's second-worst book, The Maltese Falcon, which is okay but by far not his best. If Hammett's work is going to be judged on one work, it ought to be The Glass Key, which he acknowledged as his best, and which was specifically his book about love and friendship.

But, of course, de gustibus non est disputandum.
posted by koeselitz at 4:37 PM on June 12, 2013


I will have to give it a shot. I'm more of a Maltese Falcon / Thin Man kinda girl.
posted by dame at 5:12 PM on June 12, 2013


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