RARA-AVIS: Influences and a cyber slip-up

From: Al Guthrie ( allanguthrie@ukonline.co.uk)
Date: 31 Mar 2003

I noticed in Lawrence Block's "Writing The Novel" the following dedication:
"for John O'Hara, Evan Hunter, Fredric Brown, W. Somerset Maugham, Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett, James T. Farrell, Thomas Wolfe, and so many more writers from whom I've learned so much of what I know." By omission, a snub to Chandler? Perhaps, but I suspect that Chandler's style is so peculiarly his (at times almost self-parodic) that most writers avoid his influence for fear of being seen as mere imitators.

Again, on influences. James M Cain didn't like the accusation that his writing was hardboiled. In the preface to THE BUTTERFLY (1946) he says: "I belong to no school, hardboiled or otherwise, and I believe these schools exist mainly in the imagination of critics." Having dismissed Hammett, he then goes on at greater length to explain why his style owes nothing to Hemingway: "Unfortunately, for this theory [a stylistic debt to Hemingway]...my short story PASTORAL..was written in 1927, though I first read him when MEN WITHOUT WOMEN first appeared in 1928. Yet the style is pretty much my style today." Cain doesn't bother to mention Chandler.

Leonard and Hunter seemed to have caused some upset with their flippant septegenarian disregard of the literary merit of Ray and Dash. I suspect that it's far too easy to attribute influences. John Williams said "Leonard may not owe much to the Maltese Falcon, but The Glass Key is another matter..." While that's possibly true (personally I think those two books are remarkably similar - both stunningly consistent pieces of detached writing), it's also possible that Leonard is not in the least influenced by Hammett. He hasn't read Hammett since 1944. I doubt the poor man (he's now 76) remembers what it is he's supposed to be influenced by. It may be just my experience, but I think that for a writer to influence you, you don't stop reading him when you're seventeen. I'd say Leonard's comments were frank. He'd pass Dick Lochte's lie detector with ease. If Leonard has been influenced by Hammett, he's unaware of it.

Hunter's a different story. He slipped up on the banana skin that is the internet. From The Book Reporter: http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/au-mcbain-ed.asp TBR: What authors have influenced you? EH: James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John O'Hara, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, T.H. White.

All Chandler fans, being adolescents, should be discouraged from going to his website and leaving him the following message: liar, liar, pants on fire.


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