23 March 2010

A Raymond Chandler Evening....

Having just finished two of Raymond Chandler's novels - Playback and The Big Sleep - and a fantastic collection of early shorts called Killer in the Rain, I have concluded that all of his detective characters are imaginary portraits of frustrated artists procrastinating their way through a series of daydreams in which their Art takes a back seat to their Attitude. It's much easier to "feel" than it is to sit down and "do." I think most of us have known this impulse at one time or another. What is the old saying? That most writers hate writing; they just want to have written. This is Philip Marlowe in a nutshell ... strands of crackling, scintillating poetry shoot from his mouth five times a minute like sequined rubber bands. He doesn't have to work at being a smart ass, it just comes naturally - the secret dream of all writers.

According to wise Wikipedia, critics apparently feel Playback is his worst novel, which made me eager to read it immediately after finishing The Big Sleep, if only to form a basis of comparison - to plant the poles, so to speak. And I loved it. It meandered into strange places only tangentially related to the plot, it allowed minor characters to dominate entire chapters with their own voice, and in the end the book's central mystery wasn't so much a mystery as a misunderstanding. It's as if Chandler was retiring the genre altogether, with Marlowe slipping away into a sustained fantasy. The woman calls, the music swells, the whiskey is wet and it burns on the way down. Last time, with feeling.

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