What a wonderful novel: Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep”; UPDATED on the difference between American Hard-Boiled and English Whodunits

Chandler is a superb writer, and his detective, Philip Marlowe, is the distilled essence of a hard-boiled cynic–with gut-level integrity.

The plot is convoluted, but intelligible.

Not so, the movie’s plot, which is famously incoherent but fun to watch, for all that.

After all, Bogie and Bacall and director Howard Hawks suffuse it with noir atmosphere.

After a while, you stop caring that it makes no sense. You just soak it up.

Still, I knew Chandler’s novel was different. At least, that’s what I vaguely remembered from reading it years ago. So, I decided to revisit it.

Good idea.

It’s a great read, not only for Chandler’s prose style but for Marlowe’s interaction with tough guys, rich guys, sleaze balls, cops, crazy women, and shrewd women, all looking for an angle in 1930s LA. Marlowe knows how to play their games, but keeps his integrity (without being goody two-shoes) as he does it.

What makes Chandler and Hammett’s work so different from the classic English whodunits?

Here’s my take. In the hard-boiled American genre, the whole world is steeped in evil sharpies. We aren’t totally focused, as we are in classic English mysteries, in finding the single person who committed the murder (given that everyone in a small, well-defined group has a plausible motive–and perhaps some clues pointing in their direction).

In the American genre, the whole underworld is implicated. Lots of them “done it.” The problem is not just finding one guy. It is unraveling the whole tangled mess of lies and crimes. Since the private eye must travel constantly in that underworld, his (or her) problem is maintaining a moral compass while all about him have none.

Sleazy as that world is, what fun to be lost in it, guided by such capable hands as Chandler’s.

 

ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . .Sunday, January 8

Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
Linked articles in bold purple

◆ Positive, human-interest story on medical marijuana, with a moving headline: “I made my autistic son cannabis cookies. They saved him.”

At the time [our 9-year-old son] was consumed by violent rages. He would bang his head, scream for hours and literally eat his shirts. At dinnertime, he threw his plates so forcefully that there was food stuck on the ceiling. He would punch and scratch himself and others, such that people would look at the red streaks on our bodies and ask us, gingerly, if we had cats.

But when I got the cookies right, he calmed down. His aggressions became less ferocious and less frequent. Mealtimes became less fraught. He was able to maintain enough self-composure that he even learned how to ride a bike — despite every expert telling us it would never happen.

It seemed like a miracle. And seven years later, it’s still working. –Marie Myung-Ok Lee (Chicago Tribune, originally in Washington Post)

◆ Democrats want to delay hearings on Trump’s cabinet picks That’s the report in The Hill.

Comment: The political wisdom of the Democrats’ strategy depends on their reasons. If they want essential financial and ethics information, the delay will be seen as justifiable. If there are not substantive reasons, then the Democrats will be seen as obstructionist, part of the swamp Trump promised to drain.

◆ “The stuff that dreams are made of” I just learned that Bogie ad libbed that line. It wasn’t in the script.

◆ Goodbye to two fine men: Nat Hentoff and Mario Soares

◆ Hentoff, aged 91, was a great jazz critic, a fierce defender of free speech, and prolific author. A true mensch.  The NYT obituary is here.

◆ Mario Soares, 92, played a crucial role in Portugal’s transition to democracy after decades of right-wing, authoritarian rule. The BBC calls him the “Father of Portuguese Democracy.”

◆ Putin wins his last round against Obama, says The Economist. Now, they say, he will have to hang on to power with that scapegoat. The story is here.

Comment: We’ll see. Putin is currently jousting with plenty of dragons around the world; perhaps they can serve as scapegoats. Trump clearly wants to shift relations with Russia; that explains his overtures and smooth relations with the Kremlin before he takes office. The question is what will happen to those relations after Trump faces his first crisis with Russia. (Remember, things went smoothly with Ted Cruz, too, until their interests clashed directly.)

◆ Taiwan’s leader is coming to the US, and Beijing is not happy about it. CNBC has the story.

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