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*The Lady in the Lake* — novel new territory

With this rereading logofourth novel, The Lady in the Lake, one can say that Raymond Chandler has done better and has done worse.

The most notable thing about the Lady is the way that Chandler goes away from Los Angeles, thereby showing a knack for nature descriptions. The change of scene allows for some colorful characters, too – characters befitting the rural scene.

chandler later worksIt is not a matter of Chandler losing ground. He is who he is, and that is a very good thing. I can remember searching for another, and another, Chandler title after I had read just one. Anything by Chandler has an advance placement in my top 100 list of favorites in the detective category.

The writing is as good as ever, and the characters are the usual suspects that we have come to expect. The weakest link is the plot, which is standard and predictable. That said, my notes show a lively interest in the language. I copied out more than twenty examples that I just could not pass up.

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Have a heart — Chandler’s *The High Window*

Continuing my rereading of the books of and about Raymond rereading logoChandler, I turn to The High Window, the third novel Chandler wrote (published 1942).

We knew that Philip Marlowe has a heart, and with the coming of this story we can hear its beating. In contrast to the flow of the first and second novels, this one shows Marlowe as a big brother sort of guy in certain well-defined situations.

chandler later worksThere also is an interruption in the tight plotting around rich families. The High Window falls into line by starting with Marlowe meeting with a rich and strange matron who becomes his client, but the story soon takes a new path. The reader keeps expecting a certain character – one Linda Conquest, a torch singer — to be more prominent in the action, based on previous experience with Chandler, but it never happens. A certain gold coin gets more face time than Linda Conquest does, name withstanding. I appreciate the confusion. One plot written over and over would not make Raymond Chandler memorable or laudable.

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Raymond Chandler’s *The Big Sleep* puts me in wide-awake mode

our cat bellaI cannot remember how many times that I have read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, but I know it has to be at least three.

rereading logoTo borrow a phrase from a fine modern theologian (Marcus Borg), it is like I am meeting this book again for the first time.

raymond chandler picI have been reading, and rereading, Chandler since I was a young man, and suffice it to say that one of the two words in that phrase young man, and one only, continues to describe me.

I figure my first reading was a mass market paperback, and then one or two more in trade paperback formats.

Make it three times.

When I sat down a few days ago to reread The Big Sleep, I recognized some of the plot details, the character Bernie Ohls, and the two crazy-wild Sternwood sisters.

And Philip Marlowe. Him I recall right well.

However, the flourishes of language and the finer points of the story came to me like snow on an outstretched tongue.

You well might ask me why I read a book, and read it again, and again, but isn’t it obvious?

Not really.

I reread books to glean insights into the craft of the writer, and in the case of a writer like Chandler, whom I owe a debt of gratitude, I also reread for the sheer and surpassing joy of seeing and hearing Language at Play like angels with pens.

What I take away like a thief in the night

The woman withdrew her gaze from some distant mountain peak. Her small firm chin turned slowly. Her eyes were the blue of mountain lakes. Overhead the rain still pounded, with a remote sound, as if it was somebody else’s rain.


Well, when I woke up this morning, I must have had someone else’s blues.

I swear I don’t know why.

My wife called me and said I got two checks in the mail I got a refund on my union dues.

When I pull my hands out of my pockets, I come up with a fistful of hundred dollar bills.

But when I woke up this morning, I must have had someone else’s blues.

Do you recognize the first quote?

It’s from the big finish of The Big Sleep.

Do you recognize the second quote?

It’s my mangled version of a favorite blues song.

The point?

I can appreciate, and I can copy, and I can mimic great writing, but in the end I am on my own, and reading, rereading, listening, borrowing, and stealing are ways of marking time between seated sessions at the keyboard.

What I have learned over the years from Chandler is that a novel that features a detective is vastly different from a detective novel, just like The Collected Letters of E.B. White is vastly different from Charlotte’s Web. Just like a series of books about a set cast of characters, even a fine series like Christopher Fowler’s titles concerning the Peculiar Crimes Unit, is not anything like the loosely connected novels of Chandler, whose glue is called Marlowe and whose pages stick to your mind like thoughts and feelings from on high.

As Robert Frost says, One can do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Would I remember if Frost had said, instead, that one can do worse than be a poet?


About this series I call #rereading

I’ve always figured that I have a book addiction. I just never intended to do anything about it.

However, the flow of books in and money out has finally brought me to a peaceful truce with my mania.

I have not bought a book for many weeks, and I intend to stay this course.

I have stopped mindlessly buying books, which means that I am free to read the books that I have on hand. For as long as I can remember, I have impulsively dreamed up research plans and purchased the books I imagined that I would need. Such dreaming is the work of a moment, and with the help of Amazon and single-click fulfillment, I have a number of piles ready and waiting for my attention.

Trouble is, I have been far better at the dreaming than the reading, like those who live to sleep.

A note on #rereading: Since my dreaming about these book projects revolves around moving from what I know to what I want to know, it is accurate to stress the re- part of the reading. Also, I like the idea of meeting books again for the first time.

Take your pick.


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