Thursday, July 30, 2009

From the novella “Red Wind” (1938) by Raymond Chandler:

“Seen a lady in here, buddy? Tall, pretty, brown hair, in a print bolero jacket over a blue crepe silk dress. Wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat with a velvet band.”


I was thinking that Waldo had described the girl's clothes in a way the ordinary man wouldn't know how to describe them. Printed bolero jacket over blue crepe silk dress. I didn't even know what a bolero jacket was. And I might have said blue dress or even blue silk dress, but never blue crepe silk dress.


There was a tall girl standing there waiting for the car. She had brown wavy hair under a wide-brimmed straw hat with a velvet band and loose bow. She had wide blue eyes and eyelashes that didn't quite reach her chin. She wore a blue dress that might have been crepe silk, simple in lines but not missing any curves. Over it she wore what might have been a print bolero jacket.

We never actually do find out why Waldo has such an eye for ladies' fashions. The narrator's hunch is just left dangling. I don't think it matters, though, because Chandler is making a self-referential point about his craft: noir writers like him do have a strange, almost obsessive-compulsive tendency to pick through every little detail of a character's outfit when that character is introduced. He must have thought it was strange himself, because he acknowledges that here, but he must have thought it was necessary, too, because he kept doing it.

1 comment:

ArtSparker said...

My favorite Chandler quote is the one about the goon who "looked like a spider on a piece of Angel Food Cake" (because he was in a hoity-toity neighborhood).

There is a quality of playing with paper dolls in the passages you quote...I hope you know the work of Cornell Woolrich?