Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"He was a bald-headed man of no particular age ..." or What's your favorite line?

This post's title comes from Raymond Chandler's story "Nevada Gas," which you should never read before getting in the back seat of a car unless you are absolutely sure the windows and the door handles work. The complete passage follows:
"De Ruse half-closed his eyes and watched the croupier's fingers as they slid back across the table and rested on the edge. They were round, plump, tapering fingers, graceful fingers. De Ruse raised his head and looked at the croupier's face. He was a bald-headed man of no particular age, with quiet blue eyes. He had no hair on his head at all, not a single hair."
I've never seen that passage on the lists of famous Chandler quotations, and I don't know why. Maybe the compilers of such lists are more familiar with Chandler's novels than with his short stories. The passage does at least as much to set a mood as the opening to "Red Wind," but how does it do what it does?

How about that juxtaposition of plump and graceful, two words not generally associated? How about no particular age,  without qualification or modification, no "appeared to be," no "He could have been thirty, or he could have been sixty"?  Or the intensifying not a single hair after Chandler has already told us the croupier is bald? Surprising? Yep. Dreamlike? Otherworldly? Maybe. As good as blondes and bishops and stained-glass windows? I'd say yes.

What's your favorite Chandler line? And why? Or choose a memorable line by another author, and tell my why you like it.
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(Blogger's spellcheck program is politically correct with respect to what its designers would probably call gender, but is really sex.  It flagged as a misspelling blondes two paragraphs above. I wonder if the simps who wrote the program would come up with a more gender-approprate name for one of Bob Dylan's most ambitious and celebrated albums.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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15 Comments:

Blogger R.T. said...

Let me offer something from Ed McBain's "Sadie When She Died."

"'I'm very glad she's dead,' the man said."

Well, what reader could resist reading further. Who is dead? Who is speaking? What on earth is going on here? That opening line, my friend, is a great hook!

November 20, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, does the note of whimsy introduced by the rhyme dead/said rhyme fit what follows?

November 20, 2013  
Blogger Dana King said...

My favorite Chandler line is :

From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.

You're right about the lines being so often chosen from novels. I have that collection. I need to go back and read the shorter works again.

November 21, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Of course, Peter, your opening line is especially effective. After reading that one, who wouldn't want to read the story--being certain to avoid the backseat of a car while reading. Well done!

November 21, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, that was one of the lines I had in mind that appear often on the lists. It's one of my favorites. But I found one list of more than 200 Chandler quotations that did not include the one from "Nevada Gas." I should look at that or some similar list again and tally how many of the lines are from short stories.

November 21, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, R.T. I did not intend that felicitous pairing of form and content; it just happened. I am planning a trip to that part of the country, hosted by a huge Chandler fan who offered to take me on tours of Chandlerland. "Not if I have to sit in the back seat, you're not," I said. So that opening line is semiautobiographical.

And I recommend "Nevada Gas."

November 21, 2013  
Blogger Cary Watson said...

From The High Window:

"...people who look like nothing in particular and know it."

That's from the first two paragraphs of chapter eight, and there's probably a dozen quotable lines in them.

November 21, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the contribution. I don't think that's one of Chandler's best-quoted lines. The best-known lines tend to be the over-the-top whimsical ones, I think. Your example packs more of an emotional punch.

November 21, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A donor who wishes to remain anonymous sends this example from The Lady in the Lake of the waiter witth "a face like a gnawed bone."

November 21, 2013  
Blogger Paul Davis said...

Peter,

I'm a huge Raymond Chandler fan.

I recall the question an editor who edited Chandler's letters asked her publisher, "Did Raymond Chandler ever write a dull sentence?"

Paul

November 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! I'll take that as a challenge. I'm reading Chandler's short stories now. I shall make it a mission to try to find a dull sentence, just one. At the moment none comes to mind.

November 23, 2013  
Blogger Paul Davis said...

Peter,

You might be interested to know that some years HBO and a British TV station made a TV series from Chandler's short stories.

Many of the stories had characters with different names, such as Mallory, but the series placed Philip Marlowe in the TV adaptations.

Booth Powers portrayed Marlowe.

You can watch a couple of the shows on Youtube, including "Nevada Gas."

Below is a link to one of them:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ps-yNlv__0

Paul

November 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul: Thanks. I had heard of that series but had never tried to track it down. And retrofitting the stories with the Marlowe name follows a practice Chandler himself adopted when he reworked the stories into novels, so one can't entirely fault the producers for doing it.

November 23, 2013  
Blogger Les Edgerton said...

Has the spelling of blonde/blond changed? It's always been spelled "blonde" when it's a feminine usage, and "blond" when it's a male.

November 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nope, the old rules still hold. But the only explanation I can come up with for the spell-checker's failure to recognize blonde is that a not terribly literate but thoroughly indoctrinated programmer somehow believed the word, especially as a noun, was demeaning to women.

Some reporters at my newspaper, on the other hand, know the rules too well. They know that blond is a masculine form and blonde feminine, so they'll mistakenly write that a man has blond hair but a woman blonde hair. Hair has no gender (yes, gender, not sex, though hair has no sex either, at least not without help from other, more animate body parts),

November 26, 2013  

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