Thursday, September 12, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 142: Raymond Chandler, I’ll Be Waiting (#49)

Raymond Chandler, "I’ll Be Waiting" (1939) from Raymond Chandler: Stories and Early Novels:

Here's Chandler's critique of this story, written in a letter to George Harmon Coxe:
“I didn’t think much of the story when I wrote it—I felt it was artificial, untrue and emotionally dishonest like all slick fiction.”
That "slick fiction" is an explicit put down on the magazine where this was published, the Saturday Evening Post, which gives a pretty interesting frame through which to view this story. In a lot of ways, this story seems standard hard-boiled: there's a secretly sentimental hotel detective; the vulnerable love object waiting for the man; the underworld figures hunting the man. But instead of taking place all over the city with the detective tracking people down, this takes place all in or around the hotel. You could easily make a play of this, which does give it a sort of cosy feeling.

That said, while all the elements of noir are here in a tidy package, I can understand why Chandler might not love this story: occasionally, the prose overreaches into the sort of self-parody that Chandler only occasionally let by:
In the corners were memories like cobwebs.
 Since Vienna died, all waltzes are shadowed.
And yet, there's still some of the great hard-boiled writing that we expect from Chandler, particularly from the brassy dame with the self-destructive streak--a love for damaged, damaging men. She gets some of the best lines"
"I was married to him once. I might be married to him again. You can make a lot of mistakes in just one lifetime."
"Redheads don't jump, Tony. They hang on--and wither."
Similarly, there's that patented technique of giving us the externals and avoiding the internals. And when I say "patented," I mean "by Defoe" or someone else of that era. One of my favorite examples of this is from The Big Sleep, where Marlowe gets into a fight with a woman and notes:
The blonde was strong with the madness of love or fear, or a mixture of both, or maybe she was just strong.
So there's the detective (as proxy for the author) just shrugging off the whole issue of reason: all he can know is that she's strong, not the why of it. So here, we get a lot of externals:
Tony went on past the closed and darkened newsstands and the side entrance to the drugstore, out to the brassbound plate-glass doors. He stopped just inside them and took a deep, hard breath. He squared his shoulders, pushed the doors open and stepped out into the cold, damp, night air.
Oh my god, that's a lot of description of the interior of the hotel, with absolutely no explicit description of the interior of the detective. He takes a breath, he square his shoulders--but why? That's beyond this story's narrative voice. And yeah, the amount of external description here does verge on the self-parodic. (Or like a mix between Chandler and someone like Wharton, whose stories are often told in the shifting interiorities of characters' houses.)

And so we get sections like this--
"Nobody's all bad," he said out loud.
The girl looked at him lazily. "I've met two or three I was wrong on, then."
He nodded. "Yeah," he admitted judiciously. "I guess there's some that are."
--where a great deal of thoughts must be going on, but without letting us see it.

Also, someone saying something "out loud" is bad writing in most cases; here it's still bad writing, though it does remind us of the distance between "out loud" and "inside."

No comments:

Post a Comment