‘The Big Sleep’

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Rob Sherron, Contributing Writer

 

Phillip Marlowe has far more in common with this man than he does with Dick Tracy. -Photo courtesy of aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com
Phillip Marlowe has far more in common with this man than he does with Dick Tracy. -Photo courtesy of aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com

I am afraid that I cannot in good faith recommend any of my top four favorite novels to the University of Dallas community. Waugh’s and Wodehouse’s canons in their entirety are necessary components of any Catholic homeschooler’s upbringing, so a recommendations of my slot one or two would be redundant. David Foster Wallace died only four years ago, making a recommendation of slot three to our troglodytic bubble quite hopeless. If I were to recommend slot four, I might be publicly executed in front of the tower for daring to support such humorous blasphemy (this novel prominently features the hilarious machinations of satanic witches who hope to bring about the apocalypse, and a neurotic angel and his smarmy demon friend who try to stop them). And so I must turn to slot five.
I still do so with trepidation, however. Dozens of professors and their undergraduate minions flash before my eyes, all condescendingly giggling the same phrase: “So you want us to waste our time reading . . . [here they pause, for even uttering the word causes them physical pain] genre fiction?!”
Slot five is not only genre, but a work that codified the genre of the noir novel. University of Dallas students, I urge you to read Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece, The Big Sleep.
I could argue that the incredible atmosphere, the delicious prose (the kind of writing that becomes purple when it fails, and enthralling when it succeeds), and the immersive, twisting plot all combine, like a hardboiled Voltron, to make an immensely entertaining experience. But I know you. You don’t want fun. You want to think. You, Gentle Reader, have chosen to attend a liberal-arts college, and thus you have decided that you are intellectual, above the pulps that the common folk read for something called “happiness” – or any emotion equally banal.
I’m going to let you in on a secret, GR: The Big Sleep isn’t about mystery. Or crime. Or femme-fatales that make the private eye reach for the bottle of rye that he keeps with his pistol in his top drawer.
It’s about Lit. Trad. I.
From page one: “Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady . . . I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying.”
Philip Marlowe is the last knight, and the story of The Big Sleep is an exploration of what that means in a world that has abandoned the idea of knightly virtue as a positive good. Imagine if the Green Knight weren’t testing Gawain, but wanted him to fail.
And since it is indeed not only genre, but the pinnacle of  its genre, you will find yourself, with no warning, thinking about more than the text in front of you; you will find yourself actually having fun.
(And if you do enjoy it, check out Farewell, My Lovely for Chandler’s take on the Grail Myth.)

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