Saturday, May 16, 2020

Meanwhile, in California

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana's that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. 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." 
One of the best opening paragraphs to any story, short or long.
Excepting of course that baseball story: "In the big inning..."

From Delancey Place:

Raymond Chandler and the city of Los Angeles 
Today's selection -- from Literary Landscapes edited by John Sutherland. Detective novelist Raymond Chandler and the city of Los Angeles:
"As Los Angeles is the anti-city, a hundred diverse communities stuck against one another into a sprawling metropolis, so is [Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel] The Long Goodbye [with its hero Philip Marlowe] the anti-crime novel. Peculiarly for an author who all but defined the genre, Chandler had few of the skills generally associated with writers of pulp fic­tion, and readers used to the cheap, violent thrills of Chandler's imitators will likely come away bored. For that matter, the through-line at the heart of the classic mystery -- a stolen necklace, a butler murdered in the study -- is nowhere to be found. In its place is a work full of odd asides, of side plots which go nowhere, of characters which appear and then disappear, of loose ends which a competent editor would almost certainly have strangled. While the final sting remains as sharp as anything in fiction, it is precluded by 50 pages that could be cut without affecting the work in any significant way.

"And yet, in the half-century since it was written, The Long Goodbye has become widely recognized as the defining example of what is the only truly American literary form. Chandler's great and abiding genius resides in two areas; first, a talent for language which is shared by few twentieth-century writers, irrespective of genre; and second, a profound sense of place, a vision of Los Angeles which has defined the city in the minds of millions of readers. It is, on the surface at least, an unkindly depiction. Chandler's Los Angeles is a city of gamblers and dope addicts, of decent men rendered amoral by time and misfortune, of woman lost to drink and lust and sadness, of unjust police officers and titans of industry unconcerned with the brutal effects of their wealth. Its great natural beauty is ever at contrast with the sins and vices of its inhabitants, and the sunny optimism which was the hallmark of the 1950s America seems a sick joke.
Seventh and Broadway, downtown Los Angeles, California, in the 1950s

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