My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I know it was the attitudes and nomenclature if the time–this novel was published in 1940–but I have never waded through the sludge of so many racist and misogynistic attitudes EVER. I even learned some racial slurs I hadn’t known before. See, kids? Reading is educational.
This book is chock-full of dinges and niggers and shines and wops and dames and broads and an Indian who says things like, “Gottum car,” I kid you not. So part of me is just rolling my eyes and cringing through the whole thing. And I think PC is important, yes I do, although I also think we get carried away with it sometimes. But the thing to realize is that PC is only just the surface, it’s the skin-deep beauty that cannot hide the flesh underneath, still rotten with prejudicial attitudes. Almost eighty years after this book was written, women are still not fully credited for everything we can do, still do not have equal pay or control over our own bodies. Racism is going strong, institutionalized and systematic in virtually every aspect of American life and even normalized by our current presidential administration. Simply making the words unacceptable in polite society does not enlighten anyone, does not change the underlying attitudes and accepted norms of that society. We’ve got a lot of work to do yet. But we have to start somewhere, and PC is as good a place as any.
But on the other hand- -that’s my favorite hand, the other hand–the prose. The prose! Hard-boiled poetry.
“I had seen some of his work and it was the kind of work that stays done.”
“She’s a nice girl. Not my type.”
“The wet air was as cold as the ashes of love.”
“She hung up, leaving me with the curious feeling of having talked to somebody that didn’t exist.”
“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”
Couple of things to note. The word “okay” is spelled “okey” through the book and I kept tripping over it. Was that normal then? I learned a few new terms for “marihuana,” including “jujus” and “tea” and “American hasheesh.”
One of the best parts of the writing of the time is that “dick” is not a dirty word. “Private dick.” Private dick? Don’t mind if I do. The best dick is always private. Dick, dick, dick.
As for the story itself, I’m torn. The plot is all over the place and in a couple of spots, but particularly toward the end, it was really slogging. I considered not finishing it– I know! Not finish a Raymond Chandler book?–but at 88% you might as well push through. Then I read somewhere that this novel is the cobbling together of three of Chandler’s short stories, which explains the disjointedness. The story opens with Marlowe working on a case, and he gets sidetracked by a shooting in a “shine joint” and a missing woman, and never bothers to go back to his original case. So, the plot. It’s okay (or okey), but I think we really read Raymond Chandler for the tough-guy characters, and the dames with legs “to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window,” and the sentences you read over and over again because they’re just that good. The plot is only necessary as a vehicle for everything else that sets noir apart. And for that, four stars.
Bookshelves: noir, whodunit, manly-men-kicking-ass, detective, mystery, crime, bad-dialogue, so-bad-it’s-good
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