Thursday, May 25, 2006

"Summer" Reading

My summer reading doesn't differ substantively from the other three seasons, but I've enjoyed Slate's meditations on pulp fiction thrills so much, I caught some of their surfer dude spirit. I hereby commit myself to re-reading Dashiell Hammett.

The public declaration is a bit disingenuous of me; I was already set to give Hammett another peek, regardless. This is due to my current attempts at bedtime reading. You can see I've had trouble finishing Dennis Danvers' The Bright Spot -- two months "On The Floor", and counting. This is partially due to late-spring torpor, but chiefly due to the writing style. It's not a bad style, per se -- it just happens to be a style I've never enjoyed reading: specifically, Raymond Chandler's style.

There are Chandler-based movies I've enjoyed: the pal-mal confusion and sexual heat of Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep is still a thrill to see, and Robert Mitchum's turn in Farewell, My Lovely is softly evocative and has a boozy sweetness to it. But reading Chandler is another story -- he's always grated on me. There's too much of the wise-ass in his prose, and in my life I have been overly familiar with wise-asses. The fact that I once attempted to be one myself only makes the presence of wise-assery all the more unbearable. So, no thank you to Messieurs Chandler, Parker and now, uh, "Sydney".

Hammett, on the other hand, is a horse of a slightly different colour. Not so much the wise-ass as something colder -- or should I say "cooler"? It's been 20 years since I last read him, though, and my memory of the experience may be way off the actual mark. So stay tuned...

Update: although Michael Blowhard makes no mention of my flip dismissal of Chandler, he clearly disagrees with my prognosis. And I have to admit there is indeed an enviable and evocative economy to such lines as: "He looked like a bouncer who had come into some money."

But since I've already committed myself to flippancy, I might as well come out and say: I just don't get this recent revival of Georges Simonon. I've only read two Maigret novels, and I'm disinclined to try any more. When you take Raymond Carver's minimalism and knit it to the bones of a mystery novel, you don't necessarily produce entertaining ficiton. Non?


DarkoV said...

Really like Hammett. Love Chandler. Obsessed with Jim Thompson, he of the Black Lizard publications ("Pop. 1280", "The Kiler Inside Me", "The Grifters", "A Swell Looking Babe"). Nobody's good and nothing good happens to them. The covers always have someone laughing/smiling in that manner soon to be rewarded with a gunshot in the craw. For a while afterwords, you're even talking in a style familiar and off-putting. It's only a slap by your wife across your puss with a frying pan that sets your mouth back in its place.

Happy re-reading, Slim.

Whisky Prajer said...

Oh, Thompson's the Boss, no doubt about it. Any hero of Camus is a hero of mine. Did you read the Slate bit on Westlake's Parker Books? I was surprised to see Westlake given credit for the movie adaptation of The Grifters, which I thought was astonishingly successful because it captured Thompson's "how are these too clever for their own good losers going to get it in the neck next?" spirit while giving it a contemporary setting. Westlake can do that with his fiction, but he can't quite identify with the loser the way Thompson could. Thompson's still the master, in my books.

Andrew said...

I've got to agree with you about Chandler's wise-assery, but a couple of his books did translate into some nice Film Noir-ish flicks. I've always meant to read Hammett but I've never done so. How do you feel about Mickey Spillane?


Whisky Prajer said...

I am embarrassed to say I've yet to read Spillane. I've always liked him in interviews, though. And it seems fitting that he started by writing for comic books. Now we've got Frank Miller's Sin City which is Spillane Plus. Not that I would *know*, of course.