SURVIVOR: let the great world spin (colum mccann)*
CHALLENGER: trouble is my business (raymond chandler)

internets, it's almost impossible to be objective about raymond chandler at this point. i've read all of the novels and nearly all of the dime detective and black mask stories in print; as i finished "red wind," the last of the four stories in trouble is my business, i knew that i was at the end of the line.** though another chandler collection survived a couple of pushover rounds at the beginning of the year, i'm tempted to goddess in the doorway him with a big win over colum mccann: as jann wenner would say, trouble is my business is definitely four, for sure.

except when it isn't, that is. if some sources are to be believed, the detectives in some of these stories have been "marlowed" - that is, they began as different characters. that rings true to me, though bits of the street chivalry (and abrupt boorishness) i associate with philip marlowe of the novels do turn up here. either way, the introductory essay keeps me honest: i was halfway through it before i realized chandler had written it. "the simple art of murder" is an endlessly quotable, ferocious defense of detective stories; this stuff, by contrast, is pugnacity without chandler's intellectual snap. well, a single passage reminded me just a bit of oscar wilde on bad poetry:
There are things in my stories which I might like to change or leave out altogether. To do this may look simple, but if you try, you find you cannot do it at all. You will only destroy what is good without having any noticeable effect on what is bad. You cannot recapture the mood, the state of innocence, much less the animal gusto you had when you had very little else. Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say.
i'll take sullen chandler over most writers at their best, mind you.
(from "trouble is my business," 1939)

"I need a man good-looking enough to pick up a dame who has a sense of class, but he's got to be tough enough to swap punches with a power shovel. I need a guy who can act like a bar lizard and backchat like Fred Allen, only better, and get hit on the head with a beer truck and think some cutie in the leg-line topped him with a breadstick."

I called him from a phone booth. The voice that answered was fat. It wheezed softly, like the voice of a man who had just won a pie-eating contest.

(from "goldfish," 1936)

"If it's going to be a long story, let's have a drink."
"I never drink until sundown. That way you don't get to be a heel."
"Tough on the Eskimos," I said. "In the summertime anyway."

There were long slim fish like golden darts and Japanese Veiltails with fantastic trailing tails, and X-ray fish as transparent as colored glass, tiny guppies half an inch long, calico popeyes spotted like a bride's apron, and big lumbering Chinese Moors with telescope eyes, froglike faces and unnecessary fins, waddling through the green water like fat men going to lunch.

(from "red wind," 1938)

On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

The car outside let out a roar and when I got onto the sidewalk it was flicking a red smear of taillight around the nearby corner. I got its license number the way I got my first million.

Across the street somebody had delirium tremens in the front yard and a mixed quartet tore what was left of the night into small strips and did what they could to make the strips miserable.

She wasn't beautiful, she wasn't even pretty, but she looked as if things would happen where she was.

VICTOR: for consistency, let the great world spin - though if frank miller ever delivers on trouble is my business starring clive owen as marlowe, i'll overturn the decision on proximity alone. also, paul auster blurbed my edition.*** find a new squire, chandler estate.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 can we verb goddess in the doorway? i would like that.

02 do you agree with chandler's comment on the craft of fiction?

03 would you buy clive owen as marlowe? if not, whom would you prefer? (i'm thinking contemporary actors, not bogey &c.)

*previous battle here.

**there are stragglers, but they'll be hell to find.

***"Raymond Chandler invented a new way of talking about America, and America has never looked the same to us since."


LPC said...

01 yes
02 yes
03 no. he's too smooth-faced. I think Brendan Fraser, once he goes into rehab and realizes that while he was hallucinating he starred in Furry Revenge, and once the pain of that decision has etched itself onto his face and into his voice, that might be OK.

Katherine Cortes said...

smooth-faced?! Clive Owen? Maybe you're thinking of Jon Rhys-Myers.

kidchamp said...

i think a skinny, dissipated brendan fraser could be terry lennox in the long goodbye. amanda, you're a recent goodbye reader - thoughts?

rhys-meyers? a crooked chauffeur. or chris lavery in the lady in the lake.

Amanda said...

01 For the lady who says "dames"? Anything.

02 No. But in Chandler's defense, I would say that any advice to kill one's darlings might remove a good deal of greatness, for Chandler is all about his darlings. But this business about innocence? I give it a look that ought to stick at least four inches out of its back.

03 I have no room in my worldview for BF, and I intend to keep it that way. Further, I don't want The Long Goodbye (or, I would guess, any Chandler) in movie form for the same reason I can't bring myself to care about To Kill a Mockingbird via film, namely, the bits I like best have everything to do with phrasing and the way it echoes around my head long after I've walked away.

But I would like very much for a mixture of Cary Grant (sorry) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (sans Capote timbre) to read it out loud while I goddess in the doorway in the tub.

LPC said...

I am old enough that Rhys-Meyer looks like a rather delicious marshmallow to me. Perhaps I meant too narrow of cheekbones as far as Mr. Owens goes.

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

01: Goddess in the doorwaying is a promising gerund I think. (Verb as a verb is rad also.)
02: Don’t most writers produce moribund stuff after a masterwork or two? Unless you’re Dostoyevsky or somebody, the later works are the death rattle’s penultimate breath in. (Clive James wrote a Chandler essay collected in As Of This Writing that only someone in your condition—heavy with Chandler—can completely appreciate and he explores Chandler’s style, his awareness of the style, his reputation’s durability, and, among other things, something called Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer.)
03: Tired, tired, and tired of Clive. Let’s go with a comic actor taking a turn for the dramatic and say Will Farrell.

kidchamp said...

i like the approach, MDF, though will ferrell : me :: le fraser : amanda (except for in the landlord, which i love, weirdly).

that said, if we start talking about ben stiller i'm going to have to break a bottle and start a bar fight.

Uncle paul said...

If I remember right, what Chandler wrote during his own innocence was slushy poetry. As for later life, thinking over some biographies suggests that results vary. Some run out of things to say; some take a very long time to hit on the thing they were trying to say all along.

kidchamp said...

"slushy" is charitable, paul. i should note that i have yet to come down on either side (ditto with wilde's bad poetry comment, now that i think about it - i have known some exceedingly tedious bad poets).