Monday, April 13, 2009

Fifty Years Into the Big Sleep

I had enough time in both airports and both airplanes during my latest trip to re-read The Big Sleep. That might be my third or fourth time. I didn't realize until today that March 26 was the 50th anniversary of Chandler's death.

I made sure to pay close attention to who might have killed Owen Taylor, the Sternwood's chauffeur, a question Chandler himself famously couldn't answer when queried by the screenwriters working on the movie version, though that has always sounded apocryphal to me. Whatever the truth of that story, the book doesn't in fact answer the question of who did in Owen Taylor.

On Saturday it was warm enough for a few hours to sit around on my deck, so I did. Time, I decided, to re-read all the rest of the Chandler that I have, since it's been 10 years or more in most cases. I spent some time with The Long Goodbye, mainly so I could read passages like the following, describing something as simple as a nearly empty bar. It doesn't move the story forward, particularly. Marlowe is simply waiting for an appointment. Yet Chandler, even writing in neutral, is astonishingly good.

"The bar was pretty empty. Three booths down a couple of sharpies were selling each other pieces of Twentieth-Century Fox, using double-arm gestures instead of money. They had a telephone on the table between them... They put as much muscular activity into a telephone conversation as I would put into carrying a fat man up four flights of stairs. There was a sad fellow over on a bar stool talking to the bartender, who was polishing a glass and listening with that plastic smile people wear when they are trying not to scream. The customer was middle-aged, handsomely dressed, and drunk. He wanted to talk and he couldn't have stopped even if he hadn't really wanted to talk. He was polite and friendly and when I heard him he didn't seem to slur his words much, but you knew that he got up on the bottle and only let go of it when he fell asleep at night. He would be like that for the rest of his life and that was what his life was. You could never know how he got that way because even if he told you it would not be the truth. At the very best a distorted memory of the truth as he knew it. There is a sad man like that in every quiet bar in the world."



At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Jay Stribling (Jackson MS) said...

There is a sequel to "The Big Sleep" by Robert B Parker called "Perchance to Dream." Parker also completed Chandler's never-finished novel "Poodle Springs."

Neither of these has quite the same resonance as Chandler's prose, but they are close.


Post a Comment

<< Home