Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, February 9, 2017, 11:24 a.m.
All that I found questionable about Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep was how much it rains in Los Angeles. It was published in 1939. Perhaps it’s climate change.
For a long time, I’ve wanted to read the masters of crime and mystery, principally Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Writing complicates reading. While pecking away at my own fiction, it’s hard to find time for reading. It’s the same way that learning how to write songs diminisheS opportunities to listen to them. The camaraderie that develops between writers also begets a compulsion to read the writers of fiction by people who enjoy one’s own. I’ve got such a novel on this desk, posing and enticing me to dive into it.
Sometimes it’s a face plant.
I’ve been a fan of the movie for decades. It’s a Howard Hawks film, starring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge. It’s hard to beat Bogey and Bacall, and, if so, only by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, or John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Okay, maybe William Powell and Myrna Loy. Or James Stewart and Jean Arthur.
Few are the comparable teams. The movie version of The Big Sleep isn’t being reviewed here. It led me to the book, though it took about 35 years.
As is most often the case, Chandler’s novel is better than Hawks’ film. I want to watch the movie again because, until now, I didn’t fully understand the story. It sort of works in the film, but it can be difficult to decipher. The flick is so skillfully done that adding it all up becomes secondary.
The novel requires nimble reading, but the dance is pleasurable.
I’ll read Chandler again. It doesn’t matter if the plot is complicated. I’ll read him for the similes and metaphors.
Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants …
… decorative trees trimmed as carefully as poodle dogs …
… she had little sharp predatory teeth, as white as fresh orange pith and as shiny as porcelain …
… the outward-turning earlobes of approaching dissolution.
… as carefully as an out-of-work showgirl uses her last good pair of stockings.
And their perfume has the rotten sweetness of a prostitute.
Those are in the first chapter. They flow like cake batter in a mixer.
A dying man of wealth hires Marlowe to look into a blackmail scheme involving his two bohemian daughters. Murders occur all around Marlowe, most while he is either lurking in the shadows or contending for the hit. Sexual tension hangs in every dank scene. Everyone smokes, most stylishly. Everyone drinks, ditto.
Things are, quite often, not as they seem.
Now I’ve got to talk myself down from this ledge from whose perch I have been peering through the mind of a master.
That way, perhaps, I can write again.
If you’d like me to mail you a signed copy of Cowboys Come Home, or any of my other novels, you can find my address and instructions at montedutton.com. (montedutton.com/blog/merchandise)
I’ve written five novels and a collection of short stories. I’ve also written a number of books about sports, mostly about NASCAR. You can find most of them here.
The Kindle versions of my books, where available, can be found above. Links below are to print editions.
My new novel is a western, Cowboys Come Home. Two World War II heroes come home from the Pacific to Texas.
I’ve written a crime novel about the corrosive effects of patronage and the rise and fall of a powerful politician and his dysfunctional family, Forgive Us Our Trespasses.
I’ve written about what happens to a football coach when he loses everything, Crazy of Natural Causes. It’s a fable of life’s absurdity.
I’ve written a tale of the Sixties in the South, centered on school integration and a high school football team, The Intangibles.
I’ve written a rollicking yarn about the feds trying to track down and manipulate a national hero who just happens to be a pot-smoking songwriter, The Audacity of Dope.
I’ve written a collection of 11 short stories, all derived from songs I wrote, Longer Songs.
Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @hmdutton (about writing), and/or @wastedpilgrim (more opinionated and irreverent). I’m on Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Instagram (TUG50), and Google-Plus (MonteDuttonWriter).