Oof. I only balked a little when my Rock and Roll Bookclub picked Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. I thought, “hey, this is a genre-defining book, it can’t be too bad.” It can be too bad. In fact, it can be a giant ball of sexist, homophobic, cliche-ridden dreck.
Ben was right, The Big Sleep does not age well. The sexism is hard to stomach. Every woman in the book is either a ditz or a ballsy broad who has something to hide. All of them are trouble and all of them want to smooch on Philip Marlowe. Barf. More than just sexism, that’s just bad writing. Really? Really? Marlowe is so irresistible that all the ladies want to mack on him? Really?
Not only is Marlowe some kind of sexy he is the smartest, most intuitive person ever. EVER! He gets out of all kinds of troubles using intuition alone. With that kind of sixth sense he should have been working for the government and not some sickly millionaire with two troublesome (of course) daughters and a missing son-in-law.
While I was slogging through this Marlowe story I did a bit of research wondering what the big deal was (you know, besides being first which does not necessarily mean best) and came across an interesting tidbit on IMDB. Seems the screenwriters (one of which was William Faulkner!) who wrote the movie version were so confused by what exactly was going on they called up Chandler and asked WTF? Chandler called back later and said yeah, he had no idea who killed that guy either (SPOILER: they’re talking about Owen Taylor, the Sternwood’s driver).
So really, if the writer can’t even solve all the mysteries in his book why the hell should anyone bother to read it? Why for the never-ending similes that include:
- The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings.
- She bit it and sucked it slowly, turning it around in her mouth like a baby with a comforter.
- I lit the cigarette and blew a lungful at him and he sniffed at it like a terrier at a rathole.
- Her eyes narrowed until they were a faint greenish glitter, like a forest pool far back in the shadow of trees.
- Carmen stood in front of me, like a bad girl in the principal’s office.
- The bullet from Carmen’s gun had smashed the glass like a blow.
- He stooped for it like a flash.
- Then her breathing began to make a rasping sound, like a small file on soft wood,
- the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.
- creeping into them noiselessly, like a cat in long grass
- His small neat fingers speared one like a trout taking the fly
- It had a heavy purr, like a small dynamo
- I hung there motionless, like a lazy fish in the water
- You lied to him and you drank your cyanide like a little gentleman
- A beautiful thin tearing scream that rocked me like a left hook.
- The house in front of me was as silent as a vault.
- There was nobody there, no car on the street except my own car in front of the next house. It looked as dismal as a lost dog
- His brown face was as hard as a piece of carved wood.
- She was as limp as a fresh-killed rabbit.
- He said it in a small flat voice that was as much like the voice he had used to me as a scooter is like a ten-ton truck.
- Another man sat at the corner of the desk in a blue leather chair, a cold-eyed hatchet-faced man, as lean as a rake and as hard as the manager of a loan office.
- Tight as a vault with a busted time lock.
- Cute as a Filipino on Saturday night.
- She lay there on the bed in the lamplight, as naked and glistening as a pearl
- I was as empty of life as a scarecrow’s pockets.
- The sunshine was as empty as a head waiter’s smile.
- The place was as lonely as a churchyard.
- She was in oyster-white lounging pajamas trimmed with white fur, cut as flowingly as a summer sea frothing on the beach of some small and exclusive island.
Yeah, it’s a bit much, but even I have to admit some of the language, especially the late 30s slang is charming. I’m currently trying to work the phrase “everything will be jake” into my everyday vocabulary.
But other than that, The Big Sleep is a big, dull, confusing dud.