The first order of business is a brief examination of the why question.
I like the reason that Ed Asner gave Mary Tyler Moore. He picked up a copy of Chandler’s short stories and read her the first paragraph of Red Winds —
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.
That, Asner tells Moore, is good writing.
Something to that effect.
Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.
I intent to study not only Chandler’s neck but his nouns and verbs, his similes, his characters and plots, and anything else that moves on the mean streets of Chandler’s enduring genius.
In two nights of reading, I am halfway through The Big Sleep. I have made light pencil ticks next to wonderful writing that I do not remember from previous visits to Chandler —
The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket.
• • •
Whoever had done it [dragged a body out the door] had meant business. Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.
• • •
Hair like steel wool grew far back on his head and gave him a great deal of domed brown forehead that might at a careless glance have seemed a dwelling place for brains.
Those are fine examples of Chandler’s writing, but this one stands out for me as the best of the bunch so far —
So she giggled. Very cute. The giggles got louder and ran around the corners of the room like rats behind the wainscoting.
By the time we get the simile, the giggles are already growing little feet and exchanging street names. Anyone, like a writer with his thinking cap on, can write similes. Chandler, it feels like to me, begets them.