tempted, sidetracked, reminded

midnight-raymond-chandlerThis is an example of how it happens. Patti Abbott, author, blogger and friend, posted about sentences on September 21st: What Makes a Sentence Great? she asked. So who was/is a great sentence maker? Well, my first thought was Hemingway, but then I wondered if it was the sentences, or the paragraphs, or what. So I kept thinking.

How about style, and impact?  I had my choice: Raymond Chandler. But what work, what sentence? What came to me then was the opening of his story “Red Wind”. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Southern California and I understand the Santa Ana winds, how they feel, the heat of them, but I’ve thought the opening of that story was perfect. The sentences are perfect.

I had to look it up, read that opening again. Make sure I was remembering it right. So I pulled one of the books the story is in off the shelf (I have a couple). It was The Midnight Raymond Candler, an omnibus that contains four long stories, “Red Wind”, “Trouble Is My Business”, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” and “The Pencil” as well as two novels, The Little Sister and The Long Goodbye. It’s a good omnibus.

I read the first few sentences of “Red Wind”. In case you don’t remember, here they are:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas 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 husband’s necks.”

Then I read the first few paragraphs. Then, well, you can guess. I read the whole thing. Now I’m thinking of reading the rest of the stories. Maybe the whole omnibus. Chandler is that good, and it’s been a while since I visited these stories and novels. I’m in the middle of reading other things, but heck. That’s how this thing works, this temptation.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to tempted, sidetracked, reminded

  1. Bill Crider says:

    Chandler’s that good, all right. But I also like Hemingway and a good many others.

  2. Richard, this is a rather difficult question to answer. I come across good to great sentences in many novels I read. Hemingway would be one of my choice too, along with Wodehouse, Vonnegut, Rushdie, Heller, Naipaul, Lawrence Block, and Sillitoe among many others. I have not read Raymond Chandler.

  3. I love Chandler and can quote quite a lot of his stuff. Admittedly, I think RED WIND is probably meant to be a bit of a humorous pastiche but it is so memorable 🙂

  4. Chandler’s writing just sparkles at its best. Like you, I sometimes drift off my reading course into books like THE MIDNIGHT RAYMOND CHANDLER. And that’s a Good Thing!

  5. It is a good thing. And that sentence is impossible to beat. Especially as a hook into a novel.

  6. Very nice opening indeed. I’m a sucker for good openings as well. Perhaps my favorite opening is for Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins: “The beet is the most intense of vegetables.”

  7. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Chandler’s stories had a lot of good things in them. That opening is particularly memorable. I remember Lou Grant reading it to Mary on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW to show her good, vivid writing.

    Her answer: “He writes well…about weather.

    I’ve been reading an early John O’Hara novel (HOPE OF HEAVEN) in a collection that also includes a couple of other novels and 20 short stories. The stories are short, for the most part – 3 or 4 pages in many cases – so I’ve been reading them in between. So far, I don’t remember reading any of them (“Days” and “Patriotism” and “Radio”) before. While they may not be as deep as some of his longer, later stories they are well worth checking out.

    The book is HERE’S O’HARA: Three Novels and Twenty Short Stories. The copyrights are from 1935-1946.

    • I had no idea that was on the Tyler show, which I rarely saw. Glad you’ve found some new O;Hara stories, what a treat for you. Now find me some Chandler short stories I haven’t read. (Hint: there aren’t any).

  8. Art Scott says:

    This is maybe the quintessential Chandler opening. I remembered the opening of the old radio adaptation being fairly close to the text, and so it was. If you’re curious to hear how Van Heflin speaks it, you’ll find it (the episode idiotically typoed as “Red Wing”) at
    http://www.dumb.com/oldtimeradio/listen/9991/Detective/Philip_Marlowe/470617_Red_Wing.html. You’ll have to put up with a bumptious announcer and a Pepsodent hard sell before you get to it.

  9. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I found it. It starts at the 8:30 mark:

    Lou Grant quotes “Red Wind”.

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