Thursday, July 24, 2008

The staggering butterfly

Time passed, quite a lot of time. I stuck a cigarette in my mouth but didn't light it. The Good Humor man went by in his little blue and white wagon, playing Turkey in the Straw on his music box. A large black and gold butterfly fishtailed in and landed on a hydrangea bush almost at my elbow, moved its wings slowly up and down a few times, then took off heavily and staggered away through the motionless hot scented air.
--from The High Window by Raymond Chandler
In trying to keep up my practice of book-blogging on the other blog which will soon be defunct, here's another quote from Raymond Chandler. A few paragraphs before this one there was a strange word I had never seen before and had to look up: deodar, which means "A tall cedar (Cedrus deodara) native to the Himalaya Mountains and having drooping branches and dark bluish-green leaves, often with white, light green, or yellow new growth in cultivars." [Free Dictionary]. The High Window starts out with Marlowe describing the hot, oppressive atmosphere of the day. The butterfly taking off heavily and staggering away is a perfect accent for the surroundings and the weather he was describing.

And what is it with Turkey in the Straw and ice cream trucks? A universal phenomenon, apparently. Remember The Believers? I don't think it was that song that the ice cream truck was playing at the beginning of that movie, but when I heard that music and saw that truck creeping over the hill I got a serious case of the shivers. That was the scariest part of that whole movie.

I think this is also the story in which Chandler (as Marlowe) describes a woman as having "a face like a bucket of mud." That's one of my favorite descriptions of all time. Short, succinct and unusual, yet you know immediately what he's talking about. It's another line that I've always remembered.

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