Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Happy 125th, Raymond Chandler, or What does Chandlerian mean to you?

As the world celebrates Raymond Chandler's 125th birthday by spouting extravagant similes, I'd like to quote an excerpt from Farewell, My Lovely, the bit that immediately follows the oft-quoted introduction to Moose Malloy, who, "Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food."

 The description continues:
 "His skin was pale and he needed a shave. He would always need a shave. He had curly black hair and heavy eyebrows that almost met over his black nose. His eyes were small and neat for a man of that size and his eyes had a shine close to tears that gray eyes often seem to have he stood like a statue, and after a long time he smiled."
Notice how the mood grows readily more somber, even as the wit remains, until, by the end,"a shine close to tears that gray eyes often seem to have" gets you right there, doesn't it?

I wrote recently that William McIlvanney's "emotional engagement with Glasgow ... is one of the few facets of any crime novelist's writing that really is in the spirit of Chandler's with Los Angeles."  How about you, readers? Which writers rise about the promiscuous and silly cover-blurb invocations of Chandler and really do capture Chandler's essence? What does Chandlerian mean to to you?
***
Here's a Detectives Beyond Borders post about Chandler's influence on crime writers worldwide. Whom can you add to that list?

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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15 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

You nailed my idea of "Chandlerian" with your examples from his description of Moose Malloy. Everyone wants to talk about the wisecracking similes, but my favorite examples of his work--even specific lines--show what Marlowe observes, what he sees below the surface.

To me, the money quote on your example was, "He would always need a shave." Not only is there great economy of words in describing a man with five o'clock shadow issues, it describes a man who "needs" something. It describes not just his face, but him.

My favorite Chandler quote is: From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet.

Again, superficially snotty. But there's more there, a sadness the permeates the Marlowe books without being maudlin. He's the knight errant who understands the sadness of a world that needs such men.

July 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"He would always need a shave" combines humorous observation and wistfulness like nothing else that comes to mind.

It's not that no one recognizes the melancholy in Chandler; doing so requires only minimal comprehension. But no crime writer has been more widely invokes without even that degree of comprehension than Chandler has.

I think you're right about tha tline from The High Window. too. It's witty, cutting, maybe cruel, and full of sadness at the same time.

July 23, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Only Chandler is "Chandlerian." I am always wary of any second-stringers when they are described as Chandlerian, Faulknerian, Dickensian, Hemingwayesque, Joycean, etc. If someone is imitative--either through intent or accident--then who really needs to be bothered reading imitations? On the other hand, has any writer ever been wholly original and successful? After all, excessive singularity can doom a writer to failure.

July 24, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

To be fair, I'd blame promoters and blurbsters rather than the second-stringers themselves. Such people will generally not be content refer to an author as Chandlerian. Rather, they will concoct fanciful lineages such as "Imagine Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith conceived a literary love child after reading Cornell Woolrich at his most Jim Thompson-like. That's just what you'll say to yourself after reading XXXX XXXXXXX." So I admit my question was a bit of a provocation. "Chandler," like "noir," can mean just about anything and therefore almost nothing.

On the other hand, it is fair to think about what distinguishes a given author's work and to hope that that's what commentators have in mind when they turn the author's name into an adjective.

July 24, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This has just occurred to me: If forced to choose, I'd take Hammett over Chandler, and Chandler himself gave Hammett all the credit in the world. But why are authors seldom compared with Hammett or called Hammettian? It can't be just that "Hammettian" might be harder to pronounce, can it?

July 24, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Instead of saying Hammettesque or some other label, we could amuse ourselves by saying Hellmanesque. In doing so, we can twist and torture the implied irony because there is a sordid little rumor that Hellman wrote very little but had Hammett do her writing for her. Of course, that also raises the question of who was sober enough to do the writing?

And as for the word "blurbster," you really ought to send that one to the OED editors. What a word!

July 24, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have heard it said that Hammett didn't write all of Hellman, just the human parts. I'd guess that Hammett's reputation rides higher than Hellman's these days, though he never was called on to shill for a brand of fur coats the way she was.

I called Ken Bruen an “indefatigable blurbster” in 2007. Anyone who has read a non-cozy crime novel in the past fifteen years, or looked at the cover of one, will understand why.

July 24, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Do "blurbsters" like Bruen get compensation from the publishers? Are they simply blur whores?

Blurbs sell books. That seems obvious. As for me, though, I avoid subordinating my "tastes" to the "blurbsters" because I am too cynical about their motivations and their accuracy.

July 24, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

To the extent that I read blurbs, I consider their form. I disregard those that consist of standard blurb phrasing. I will, on the other hand, consider and take seriously blurbs that suggest the blurber put some thought into his or her comments.

I know that some authors will ask others for blurbs. I don't know to what extent publishers get involved or whether compensation comes into play. I know, too, that Bruen is an obliging fellow and that he writes a lot. This predisposes him toward blurbsterism, I would think

July 24, 2013  
Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

I would say he had a great influence on my daughter--at least her first four books.

July 24, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, I'd put Megan on the Chandler side of a hypothetical Hammett-Chandler divide because of all that smoky romanticism, though she did mention novels by both in an interview here five years ago.

July 24, 2013  
Blogger Dana King said...

"Chandlerian" may be more common than "Hammettesque" as a means of comparison because Chandler's style is more easily distinguished. Hammett has a well-developed style of his own, but it's not as obvious ("showy" comes to mind, though it's not te precise word i want) as is Chandler's, and a lot of people will miss the similarities.

July 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, you could be right, and the reasons for Hammett's style being less remarked-upon than Chandler's are worth considering. I also don't think those invocations of Chandler in reviews and on book jackets reflect the deepest and most informed of thought.

July 26, 2013  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

Chandler did not invent the outrageous simile style that he employed. He got it from the nattative voice of proganonist Jack Burden in Robert Penn Warren's ALL THE KING'S MEN.

Warren, who never employed that style at all after ATKM, got it from H. L. Mencken, whose amusingly bombastic similes marked his creative journalism. Mencken said that he got it from another, older journalist.

The lineage of this style was detailed, with examples, in an article some scholar did for THE ARMCHAIR DETECTIVE MAGAZINE some years back. I think I've blogged about it--or if I haven't, I will now as soon as I can find the article in that issue to quote.

Meanwhile an out-of-date list of the Chandleresque is here:

http://www.amazon.com/Raymond-Chandleresque-Prose-A-Study/lm/JS0HKMK7MRSZ/ref=cm_lm_byauthor_title_full

July 27, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I had not known the style's lineage.

I suspect that those reviewers who called those books "The best parody/tribute to Raymond Chandler around" have never read Woody Allen or S.J. Perelman. That the comments on one of them veer between Chandler and "Sam Spade-style" suggests they may not have read much Chandler or Hammett, either.

I don't how important Chandler considered the extravagant similes to his own writing, but by now they have assumed outsize importance in discussions of his work.

July 27, 2013  

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