Here’s another piece of beautiful writing from another one of my favorite writers, Raymond Chandler. As in my post on Neil Gaiman, I’ll give a plain, stripped-down rendering of the passage followed by the original. This one is from The Long Goodbye:
The white-haired man told the girl he had sold his convertible. He explained he needed the money to eat. He didn’t sound drunk. The girl moved away from him and grew distant. Then she became as cold as ice toward him.
And now the Chandler:
The white-haired lad said politely: “Awfully sorry, but I don’t have it any more. I was compelled to sell it.” From his voice and articulation you wouldn’t have known he had anything stronger than orange juice to drink.
“Sold it, darling? How do you mean?” She slid away from him along the seat but her voice slid away a lot farther than that.
“I mean I had to,” he said. “For eating money.”
“Oh, I see.” A slice of spumoni wouldn’t have melted on her now.
Wow. This is something. Chandler packs a lot into a few sentences. It tells us what is happening: A date just hit a speed bump. It reveals something about each character: He is drunk and broke, and she is a lot more interested in his convertible (and his money) than she is in him. Chandler does this using very few adjectives. But that doesn’t mean the writing is drab. Indeed, Chandler includes two very beautiful metaphors that are not hackneyed or well-worn. He takes the cliches “she became distant,” and “she was as cold as ice,” and makes them fresh. These metaphors make the passage lyrical without taking away from its hard-boiled, staccato rhythm. And that is why this bit of writing pops.
Do you have a favorite passage or line from Chandler (or a top five)? Do you have a favorite fresh metaphor or piece of figurative language from another author?