Monday, November 26, 2007

"Red Wind", by Raymond Chandler

From: The Black Lizard Big Book of the Pulps, ed. Otto Penzler. Vintage Crime / Black Lizard, 2007.

Philip Marlowe was sitting in a bar across the street from his apartment building, having a beer and listening to the hot Santa Ana wind beating against the windows, when a small snappily-dressed man comes in. "Seen a lady in here, buddy?" asks the man. "Tall, pretty, in a print bolero jacket over a blue crepe silk dress?"

At which point the drunk at the end of the bar rouses himself and plugs the little guy twice through the heart. "So long ,Waldo," he says. Then he's gone.

It's hours before the cops are done with Marlowe. Finally they cut him loose and he heads for home. And when the apartment house elevator reaches his floor, the doors slide open to reveal a beautiful woman in a print bolero jacket over a blue crepe silk dress.

In my opinion, "Red Wind" is the finest of Chandler's short stories, the one most similar to the style he used in his novels. Published only a year before The Big Sleep came out, it has the romanticism, the languid style, the same stock characters, and the same yearning for some sort of honest human contact.

I first read this story when I was only 19, and at the time I didn't understand the ending. Only when I reread it a couple of years later did I fully grasp why Marlowe did what he did. I have to guess that "Red Wind" was influenced by Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness. At the end of that book, the narrator (also named Marlowe) has a choice to make, and like Chandler's Marlowe, he chooses humanity over the truth.

No comments: