RARA-AVIS: Dorothy Parker on Hammett

From: Michael S. Chong (menglish47@yahoo.com)
Date: 01 Feb 2009

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    I just picked up A Month of Saturdays, a collection of Ms. Parker's writings, and she had some interesting things to say about Hammett.

    From Dorothy Parker's review of The Glass Key for the New Yorker entitled "Oh Look - A Good Book!"

    "It seems to me that there is entirely too little screaming about the work of Dashiell Hammett.  My own shrill yaps have been ascending ever since I first found Red Harvest, and from that day the man has been, God help him, my hero; but I talked only yesterday, I forget why, with two of our leading booksy folk, and they had not heard of that volume, nor had they got around to reading its better, The Maltese Falcon...  It is true that he has all the mannerisms of Hemingway, with no inch of Hemingway's scope nor flicker of Hemingway's beauty...  It is true that he is hardboiled you could roll him on the White House lawn.  And it is also true that he is a good, hell-bent, cold-hearted writer, with a clear eye for the ways of hard women and a fine ear for the words of hard men, and his books are exciting and powerful and - if I may filch a word from the booksy ones - pulsing.  It is difficult to conclude an outburst like this.  All I can say is that
     anybody who doesn't read him misses much of modern America.  And hot that sounds.

    Dashiell Hammett is as American as a sawed-off shotgun.  He is as immediate as a special extra.  Brutal he is, but his brutality, for what he must write, is clean and necessary, and there is in his work none of the smirking and swaggering of a Hect or a Bodenheim.  He does his readers an infinite courtesy of allowing them to supply descriptions and analysis themselves.  He sets down only what his characters say, and what they do.  It is not, I suppose, any too safe a recipe for those who cannot create characters; but Dashiell Hammett can and does and has and, I hope, will..."



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