“Harrowing Books of Varying Reputability”

At Teleport City, I shared twelve “Harrowing Books of Varying Reputability” including books by Raymond Chandler, Shirley Jackson, Patricia Highsmith, Haruki Murakami and Herman Melville.

So the authorities of Teleport City asked me to write about twelve books that I love. It turns out that not only am I terrible at listing favorites, I am kind of terrible at following directions. I started with twelve books I loved and then it turned into twelve books by authors I love. Then, the next thing I know, I’m culling some of them because I sense a growing indefinable theme, a theme of frequently harrowing books of varying reputability and often sinister dealings. I blame all the film noir I’ve been watching lately. These books have a wide range of sensibility and style, but I am very fond of them all.

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (First published in 1939)

The-Big-SleepIf I could write like Raymond Chandler, I would be as happy as General Sternwood watching people drink his brandy. As it is, like the General,  I’ll have to take my pleasure vicariously. Yeah, maybe, choosing The Big Sleep as my favorite is cliché, but along with clear prose and excellent metaphors, I say, “Excellent female characters” and “General Sternwood.” In The Big Sleep, Philip Marlowe is hired by Gen. Sternwood to deal with gambling debts his daughter, Carmen, has incurred to a rare book seller, Arthur Gwynn Geiger. But Geiger’s bookstore is a front for his pornography business, which I assume he uses to pay off his expensive Orientalist knick-knack habit. Carmen is in deep. Sternwood’s eldest daughter, Vivian, suspects her father has hired Marlowe to find a man named Sean Regan, who has disappeared. Marlowe does a lot of digging, everyone’s being blackmailed, and there is a lot of clean prose and seedy revelations. But despite the seedy revelations, there’s something that’s just so damn humane about Chandler’s work. Unfortunately for Marlowe, the best he ever does is break even, but he always makes me feel that breaking even isn’t so bad.

Read the whole thing here.


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