RARA-AVIS: Chandler's short stories

From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 03 May 2005

Mario wrote:

It looks more like exorcising Hammett... Blackmailers one of those stories where everybody runs around like crazy and everybody multiple-crosses everybody else. Like Hammett's Couffignal, or some of Paul Cain's stuff. It's interesting because soon Chandler went in a totally different direction.

"Blackmailers Don't Shoot" (1933) is bad. And Chandler struggled for five months writing it. The dialogue is poor and the writing leans heavily toward cliche. Guns talk and characters squeeze lead and laugh mirthlessly (a phrase used repeatedly in Paul Cain's FAST ONE, which Chandler praised). The hardboiled that Chandler was imitating often had finely interwoven plots. Chandler was never good at this.

The story doesn't approach the quality of his best work, but it still contains themes and elements that continue through his oeuvre. Descriptions of Los Angeles reinforce the story's atmosphere. A rich and beautiful woman invokes death and destruction, and there's a crooked cop who the story is not totally unsympathetic to. There's a big-time gentleman criminal who's debonair and dangerous. There's the homosexual theme that would have delighted Leslie Fiedler if he'd ever gotten around to reading Chandler. Although the story is written in third person, it's strongly centered on the protagonist. And the story starts out with Mallory wearing a powder-blue suit. Was Marlowe wearing hand-me-downs in the beginning of THE BIG SLEEP?

A year later he wrote "Smart-Aleck Kill". It wasn't much better. Written a couple months later, he began to show promise in "Finger Man." It's still fairly poor, but there were passages that showed Chandler coming around. The first person narrative allowed the cynical protagonist to get in some good shots: "I didn't say anything. I was way past the age when it's fun to swear at people you can't hurt." Or: "He was the kind of man who liked to have a desk in front of him, and shove his fat stomach against it, and fiddle with things on it, and look very wise." And he was warming up to the simile: "As a bluff, mine was thinner than the gold on a week end wedding ring." The biggest problem with the story is that Chandler had a lot riding on a mediocre plot.

His writing continued to mature. "Spanish Blood"
(1935) is a well-done tribute to Hammett's MALTESE FALCON. "Goldfish" (1936) is excellent. Chandler took a break from his obsession with the rich folk and worked the other side of the tracks. Easing off the logistics of a complex plot, Chandler concentrates on the mood and atmosphere, hammering out a dirty sordid background. Later he would attach an esoteric beauty to this ugliness.

Chandler was on a roll when he wrote "Red Wind"
(1938). The story is narrated in first person by a tough yet romantic protagonist who moves in a dark world. It starts out with his oft-quoted passage about the hot dry Santa Ana, and how it touches everyone with madness. It's all there in this beautiful bluesy piece, the cynicism, the similes, and the scenery.

I didn't care for "Trouble is My Business." I thought it sorta backslid towards his earlier cliched stuff. But if you liked it, Mario, then I suspect I missed something and should probably reread it.


__________________________________________________ Do You Yahoo!? Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around http://mail.yahoo.com

------------------------ Yahoo! Groups Sponsor --------------------~--> Has someone you know been affected by illness or disease? Network for Good is THE place to support health awareness efforts! http://us.click.yahoo.com/rkgkPB/UOnJAA/Zx0JAA/kqIolB/TM

RARA-AVIS home page: http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/
  Yahoo! Groups Links

<*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

<*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

<*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 03 May 2005 EDT