The Sound and the Fury

Book Review

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I must admit reading Faulkner is a bit of a challenge. I didn’t know how big of a challenge until I started reading The Sound and the Fury.

Reading challenging material has it rewards however, and I’m glad I did. Here are some of my thoughts about this strange and enchanting novel.

First, the title. It is from a quote by Shakespeare from his play, Macbeth: “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” Act 5, scene 5

The idiot in this case has a double meaning. Shakespeare is referring to man writ large but Faulkner is referring not only to all mankind but the first section of the novel is narrated (told) by Benjy, a mentally retarded (idiot) family member. It takes a while to figure this out. Faulkner brilliantly takes us inside the head of this mentally retard person and his tale is told in a sort of a primitive poetry.

The Sound and the Fury is divided into four parts. The first three parts are written from the points of view of the three Compson brothers. The fourth and final section is told by an omniscient narrator.

The time-line is a little confusing as each section is told out of joint, so to speak, as follows:

Part 1. April 7, 1928 (Holy Saturday) – Benjy

Part 2.  June 2, 1910 – Quentin

Part 3. April 6, 1928 (Good Friday) – Jason

Part 4. April 8, 1928 (Easter Sunday) – Omniscient Narrator

Faulkner wrote Quentin and Jason’s sections, he says, to clarify Benjy’s section. “I had already begun to tell it through the eyes of an idiot child (Benjy). I had to tell the same story through the eyes of another brother.”

According to Faulkner, in his introduction to the book, he set out deliberately to write a tour-de-force. It began with the image of the little girl’s (Caddie) muddy drawers. “I was just trying to tell the story of Caddy, the little girl who had muddied up her drawers and was climbing up the pear tree to look in the window where her grandmother lay dead.”

Faulkner writes of the south which he describes as old, since dead as opposed to the north which is young, since alive. The Civil War killed the south. There is a thing called the new south, but it is not the south. Only southerners have taken horse whips and pistols to editors about the treatment or maltreatment of their manuscripts.

I was born in the south, but I have had the privilege of living all over the United Sates. The last twenty years of my life I lived in the northeast before returning to my roots in Kentucky. My friends in the north would ask me what was it I liked about the south? I like everything about the south, I would answer. But I could always tell they were deeply suspicious.

In Jean-Paul Sartre’s review he states that a critic’s task is to define the writer’s metaphysics. He says it is immediately obvious that Faulkner’s metaphysics is time. Man’s misfortune lies in his being time bound. “…man is the sum of his misfortunes. One day you’d think misfortune would get tired, but then time is your misfortune.” This, then, is the real subject of the book: “…time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when time stops does time come to life.”

Faulkner frequently refers to the “branch” in his novel, and remarks that the branch was to “become the dark, harsh flowing of time.”

The best description of the book also comes from Sartre: “Faulkner’s vision of the world can be compared to that of a man sitting in an open car and looking backwards at every moment, formless shadows, flickering, faint tremblings and patches of light rise up on either side of him, and only afterwards, when he has a little perspective, do they become trees and men and cars.”

Faulkner does wonderful things with dialect and idiom. A couple of examples:

“I wuz huntin’ possums in dis country when dey was still drownin’ nits in yo pappy’s head wid coal oil, boy. Ketchin um, too.” Louis

“Dat’s de troof. Boll-weevil got tough time. Work ev’y dayin de week out in the hot sun, rain er shine. Aint got no front porch to set and watch the wattermilyuns grow and saty’dy don’t mean nothin a-tall to him.” Uncle Job

And finally, as finely wrought a piece of prose as I have ever read describing Dilsey:

“The gown fell gauntly from her shoulders, across her fallen breasts, then tightened upon her paunch and fell again, ballooning a little above the nether garments which she would remove later layer by layer as the spring accomplished and the warm days, in color regal and moribund. She had been a big woman once but now her skeleton rose, draped loosely in unpadded skin that tightened again upon a paunch almost dropsical, as though muscle and tissue had been courage and fortitude which the days or the years had consumed until only the indomitable skeleton was left rising like a ruin or a landmark above the somnolent and impervious guts, and above that the collapsed face that gave the impression of the bones themselves being outside the flesh, lifted into the driving day with an expression at once fatalistic and of a child’s astonished disappointment, until she turned and entered the house again and closed the door.”

The past takes on a super reality. The present moves along in the shadow, like an underground river. Everything is absurd. Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Algiers

Movie Review

Battle of Algiers

 

The Battle of Algiers is an Italian film directed by Gillo Pontecorvco, which was produced in 1966. It depicts true events which occurred during the Algerian war of independence from France, which was fought from 1955 – 1962. The events depicted in the movie occurred during the Battle of Algiers which took place from 1954-1957.

This film has been ranked in the top 100 films ever made. It was banned in France for five years where it was finally released in 1974. The Battle of Algiers is an important commentary on guerrilla warfare.  Revolutionary guerrilla fighters holed up and grouped together in cells in the Casbah section of Algiers. French paratroopers attempted to wipe them out. The movie is about this struggle and the methods used by both sides.

The tactics of the National Liberation Front (FLN) guerrilla insurgency and the French counter-insurgency are shown in the film. The French colonial power committed atrocities against the civilian population of their Algerian colony and the colonized insurgents committed atrocities against the civilian population of their oppressors in a spiraling escalation of violence. The FLN engaged in acts of terrorism by placing bombs in public places such as restaurants, nightclubs, and airports, indiscriminately killing civilians in the European Quarter.  The French paratroopers tortured, intimidated, and murdered members of the FLN. The use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique is depicted.  Algeria eventually won its independence in 1962.

Some of the scenes that really struck me were the incidents of waterboarding by the French Paratroopers, the men of the FLN covering themselves in burqas like women to disguise themselves and escape detection,  FLN women dressing like European women and carrying bombs in baskets, and in the end the women ululating in victory when Algeria won its independence.

The Battle Algiers is as relevant today as it was in 1965.The film was screened by the Pentagon in August 2003 as a field guide to fighting terrorism. Former National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brezezinski, said: “If you want to understand what is happening right now in Iraq, I recommend The Battle of Algiers.” This film was also used by the Black Panthers as a training film. I am sure there are other terrorists groups that have been influenced by the film as well. The Boson Bombing suspects come immediately to mind.

The film, shot in black and white, is a triumph of realistic production values and heavily influence by Italian Neorealism of the 1950’s. It was filmed on location in Algiers using the real locations in the European quarters and the Casbah. It was so realistic that Pontecorvo had to issue a disclaimer that not one foot of documentary or newsreel footage was used in his two hours of film. Everything was shot live.

The film was nominated  for Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film, Best Screen Play, and Best Director. It was the winner of the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEMORIAL DAY

Remember the fallen

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Riverside Cemetery, Asheville, NC

Field of Stone

The soldiers lie in a field of stone

Giving all for their country

Their day is done

Death is the great levlelator

He levels each playing field

One by one

All are equal when the day is done.

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That’s Treason!

Benidiict Arnold

Benedict Arnold

The word treason has been bandied about a lot lately. Both by Donald Trump describing his political enemies and his political enemies describing him. There are many who say they don’t know what they are talking about. No less a political pundit that Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s, The Last Word, says it’s impossible to at this time to commit treason, as there is no war declared by congress currently being waged. The last person who was convicted of treason was convicted for offences during WWII.

Words matter and it is important to know what they mean. There is more than one definition of treason. There is the technical legal definition as stated in the US Constitution and there is the more generic definition which can be found in any good dictionary.

The legal definition of treason is as follows: The crime of betraying one’s country, defined in Article III, section 3 of the US Constitution: Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.

The dictionary or more generic definition of treason is as follows: The crime of betraying one’s country, especially attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the country the government. Synonyms: treachery, disloyalty.

Another simpler definition: The act of betraying someone or something.

So, you see, everyone is right, and no one is wrong. Or are they?

Pretty sure Trump is conflating the two meanings. If he is talking about the legal term of treason then people like James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and FBI agent Peter Strzok would all be subject to the death penalty. A pretty serious charge and one that could only emanate from a deranged mind.

On the other hand, Trump has recently said, while he was on foreign soil, that he agreed with North Korea’s murderous dictator, Kim Jong Un, that Joe Biden was a low IQ fool. Pretty disloyal. And what about the fact that Trump sides with Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies? This could certainly be grounds for disloyalty.

So, who is the treasonous party?

 

 

First Car

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I am a great believer of synchronicity and love to connect the dots. My first car was a 1954 Buick Century with a Dyna-Flo transmission, which I purchased for $300 from a salesman by the name of Grundy Hayes in 1965 at Broadway Chevrolet, in Louisville, Kentucky when I was seventeen years old. I will never forget that day or that purchase. Grundy wore a pale green suit and a brown straw fedora hat. He had a smiling face and a gravelly voice.

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Fast forward 50 years. I’m reading a book of short stories called Sad Stories of the Death  the Death of Kings. It is a book of vignettes written by Barry Gifford about a boy growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and 60s. I’m pretty sure the boy Roy is a stand in for the author himself.

In the story, “Roy’s First Car,” Barry details a 1955 Buick Century with a Dyna-Flo transmission which the boy Roy purchases for $300. Boom!

How’s that for a coincidence?  When I read that passage it about blew my mind! But wait, it gets weirder.

In 2015, I’m standing in a car dealership shooting the shit with a “lot boy” named Joe. Joe was actually was about 70 years old. He was an old colored gentleman with white cottony hair. I was a car salesman at the time. We were both standing there gazing out the show room windows surrounded by new cars. I was reminiscing about the past.

“Yep, my first car was a 1954 Buick. I bought it off a guy name of Grundy Hayes back in the 60s at Broadway Chevrolet.”

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“Yeah, I know Grundy.” Says old Joe.

“What? Really? You do? Is Grundy still alive?”

“Yeah, I believe he is….”

As usual, fate took a hand.

Bad Motherfucker

 

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Winter: You are a bad motherfucker, Benn, unless I am totally mistaken.

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Benn: Well, that’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a while…. Reach down in that bag and get my wallet would you?

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Winter: Which one is it?

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Benn: It’s the one that says: BAD MOTHER FUCKER

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Cards Against Humanity

Used panties….

 

Cards against humanity

 

Cards Against Humanity is a party game for horrible people.

Unlike most of the party games you’ve played before, Cards Against Humanity is as despicable and awkward as you and your friends.

The game is simple. Each round, one player asks a question from a Black Card, and everyone else answers with their funniest White Card.

Here are the players:

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Elle Noir, Lingerie Model

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Downtown Abbey, Stripper

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Victoria Secret, Ninja Turtle

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Ghost Dog

Now,  I guess you are wondering how this old dog got mixed up with this bunch of 20 year old somethings playing a wild game of Cards Against Humanity. I dunno….just lucky I guess.

 

Blue-Wig

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 “Get up Angel. You look like a Pekingese.”

 

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“Let’s get out of this rotten little town.”

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This is the way love feels….

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 On the way downtown I stopped at a bar and had a couple of double scotches. They didn’t do me any good. All they did was make me think of Blue-Wig, and I never saw her again.

Caught Out in the Rain

So I went to the bus station to pick up my young friend Victoria who was travelling from Nashville back to Louisville. It was about  8:00  in the evening on a cool spring night. It wasn’t quite dark yet.

Since we were downtown we thought it would be a good idea to have drinks at the 21C Hotel bar.

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I drove the six blocks or so to the the hotel and parked out on the street. 21C was a favorite of ours. We really weren’t dressed for the place but in Louisville that didn’t really matter.

We entered through the restaurant and made our way to the bar and sat on a couch on the rear wall.

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“Just like being in our own living room,” I remarked.

“Yeah, but better because of the people watching,” she said.

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I ordered a Jack and soda and she had a Rum Coco. Something she had started drinking since she came back from Cuba a couple of months ago.

We had our drinks and some nice conversation about her latest trip to Missouri. She went there with her mother and grandmother to visit her uncle who was doing eleven years in the federal penitentiary in Springfield.

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We looked the menu over but we didn’t see anything we wanted to eat so we decide  to go the the Tavern in old Louisville to round out the night and get a late night snack.

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We finished our drinks and walked out through the bar to the restaurant exit out onto  the street. To our surprise it had started raining. It was really coming down and it was a cold rain. We ran the two blocks to car and got soaked. Once we were safely ensconced inside I was huffing and puffing from the exertion.

Victoria ventured, “I’ve never seen you run before.” And she let out a little laugh. 

“Well it is is pretty unusual,” I said. “It doesn’t happen very often.” And I laughed too.

I caught my breath and drove to the Tavern where we had more drinks and shared an order of wings.

On the way there I was put in mind of a song I like by Beth Hart: Caught Out in the Rain.

Here it is. Hope you enjoy it.

The Big Sleep – Book Review

 

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I have been having a lot of fun lately reading the annotated version of the Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. The text of the novel appears on the left side of the book while the notes are on the right. This book was annotated and edited by Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson, and Anthony Dean Rizzuto. Much of the material in this review is gleaned from their notes.

Raymond Chandler wrote, as Ross Macdonald said, like a slumming angel. His private eye, Philip Marlowe, was portrayed as a knight errant, searching for adventures and rescuing damsels in distress. He embodied the chivalric code.

In The Simple Art of Murder, Chandler wrote: “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything.” He also said, “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”

The Big Sleep, like all of Chandler’s novels and short stories, is of the hard boiled, pulp fiction, detective story genre. But Chandler was a cut above the rest. Heavily influenced by Dashiell Hammett and Ernest Hemingway, he improved upon a category of fiction that was mostly known for its lurid and salacious subject matter.

Another reason I like this book is that it gives the history of Los Angeles during and around the time period (1930s) of the novel. It also goes to great lengths to explain Americanisms, colloquialisms, slang, and genre jargon.

The Big Sleep, while a great read and a ripping good story, has a complicated plot. In this version the editors give us some guidance into Raymond Chandler’s intricate and labyrinthine novel.

I quote liberally from the novel as Chandler’s writing style is the best part of his work and the most entertaining. His use of hyperbole and exaggeration is a real gas. Also, I will be dropping some interesting asides about LA.

Los Angeles in the 1910s was the fastest growing city on earth. The population exploded 400% between 1910 and 1930. It went from 310,000 to about 1,250,000, with the greater LA County area housing 2.5 million. The Los Angeles Aqueduct was built to steal water from the Owens Valley 250 miles away. Corruption was rife. Politicians and the police often worked together with organized crime. Los Angeles was also known as a “Sin City” much like Las Vegas, with booming prostitution and gambling. According to journalist Carey McWilliams, “Los Angeles was the kind of place where perversion was perverted and prostitution was prostituted.”

“I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.”

Marlowe cracks wise throughout the novel. The term wisecrack dates from the 1920s and is associated with tough guy or hard-boiled fiction. The queen of the wise crack was the dame of the Algonquin Round Table, Dorothy Parker, who was known to have said, “The first thing I do in the morning brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

Carmen: Tall, aren’t you?

Marlowe: I didn’t mean to be.

Carmen: What’s your name?

Marlowe: Reilly. Doghouse Reilly.

Carmen: That’s a funny name. Are you a prize fighter?

Marlowe: Not exactly. I’m a sleuth.

Chandler considered it his duty as a writer to affirm life and liveliness against the deadly and the dull. A sentiment I have always lived by myself.

She put a thumb up and bit it. It was a curiously shaped thumb, thin and narrow, like an extra finger, with no curve in the first joint. She bit it and sucked it slowly turning it around I her mouth like a baby with a comforter.

Chandler used blackmail in fourteen of his short stories and five of his novels. Blackmail was very common in LA in the 20s and 30s. As headlines show: “GIRL TRIES BLACKMAIL! CAUGHT IN POLICE TRAP!” “FUGITIVE SEIZED IN EXTORTION CASE.” “FANTASTIC PLOT AGAINST POLA NEGRI BARED” “EXTORTION PLOT SUSPECT TAKEN: STANDARD OIL MILLIONAIRE’S EX-CHAUFFEUR ACCUSED.” W. Sherman Burns, head of the Burns Detective Agency, said in 1922, “Blackmail is the big crime in America today.

The 1939 WPA (Works Progress Administration) Guide calls Los Angeles the fifth largest Mexican City in the world.

In 1904 Lincoln Stephens wrote an expose called, The Shame of American Cities. In it he states politics is business. In America, politics is an arm of business and the aim of business it to make money without care for the law, because politics, controlled by business, can change or buy the law. Politics is interested in profit, not municipalities, prosperity, or civic pride. The spirit of graft and lawlessness is the American spirit. Raymond Chandler wrote in 1934, “The typical racketeer is only slightly different from the business man.”

Ernest Hopkins wrote in Our Lawless Police, 1913, “Nothing so clearly marks our policing traditions in American cities as the use of extreme and unlawful force. In LA there exists a theory of law enforcement more openly opposed to the constitution than any I have yet encountered.”

“A life is a life.”

“Right. Tell that to your coppers next time they shoot down some scared petty larceny crook running away up an alley with a stolen spare.”

There seems to be a connection between French Existentialist writers and hard-boiled fiction writers like James Cain, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond chandler. Albert Camus may have been influenced by the private investigators appearing in American detective novels like Philip Marlowe, as his portrayal of the quintessential alienated outsider Meursault in his own novel, The Stranger, clearly shows.

“I was fired for insubordination. I test very high on insubordination.” Marlowe

Marlowe is not an outlaw, but he does live by his own code, and he sometimes breaks the law by so doing. Jean-Paul Sartre says in Being and Nothingness: “Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on none but himself; that he alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than to the one he forges for himself on this earth.” Marlowe understands this and accepts the challenge.

Some of my favorite lines and quotes from the novel:

  • “What does Carmen say?”

“I haven’t asked her. I don’t intend to. If I did, she would suck her thumb and look coy.”

“I met her in the hall. She did that to me. Then she tied to sit on my lap. I was standing up at the time.”

  • “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.”
  • The general spoke again, slowly, using his strength carefully as an out of work showgirl uses her last pair of good stockings.
  • The next morning was bright, clear, and sunny. I woke up with a motorman’s glove in my mouth, drank two cups of coffee and went through the morning papers.
  • “Well, how’s the boy?” He sounded like a man who had slept well and didn’t owe too much money.
  • Vivian: “Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first. See if they’re front runners, or come from behind…I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the back stretch, and then come home free.”
  • “She approached me with enough sex appeal to stampede a business man’s lunch and tilted her head to finger a stray, but not very stray, tendril of soft glowing hair. Her smile was tentative but could be persuaded to be nice.”
  • Marlowe: You’ve got a touch of class, but I don’t know how far you can go.

Vivian: A lot depends on who is in the saddle.

  • The giggle got louder and ran around the corners of the room like rats behind the wainscoting. She started to get hysterical. I slid off the desk and stepped up close to her and gave her a smack on the side of the face. The giggles stopped dead, but she didn’t mind the slap any more than last night. Probably all her boyfriends got around to slapping her sooner or later.
  • The muzzle of the Luger looked like the mouth of the Second Street Tunnel, but I didn’t move. Not being bullet proof is an idea I had to get used to.
  • “Get up Angel. You look like a Pekingese.”
  • “You’re broke?”

“I’ve been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate.”

  • “Go fuck yourself”

“That’s how people get false teeth.”

  • I made myself a drink and was drinking it when the phone rang.
  • Listen hard and you will hear my teeth chattering.
  • I was thinking of going out to lunch and that life was pretty flat and that it would probably be just as flat if I took a drink and that taking a drink all alone at that time of day wouldn’t be any fun anyway. I was thinking this when Norris called up.
  • I was catching up on my foot dangling.
  • I got out of my office bottle and let my self-respect ride its own race.
  • …even if they didn’t strap him in a chair over a bucket of acid.
  • “Two coffees. Black, strong, and made this year.”
  • “That makes you just a killer at heart, like all cops.” Vivian to Marlowe
  • “Let’s get out of this rotten little town.” Vivian
  • A smell of kelp came in off the water and lay on the fog.
  • I braked the car against the curb and switched the headlights off and sat with my hands on the wheel. Under the thinning fog, the surf curled and creamed, almost without a sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.
  • “Hold me close you beast.” Vivian to Marlowe
  • Her eyelids were flickering rapidly. Like a moth’s wings.
  • “Killer,” she said softly her breath going into my mouth.
  • She took her right hand from behind her head and started sucking her thumb.
  • I didn’t have anything really exciting to drink, like nitroglycerin or distilled tiger’s breath.
  • She’s a grifter, shamus. I’m a grifter. We’re all grifters. So, we sell each other out for a nickel. Okay. See you can make me.
  • “Let’s dip the bill. Got a glass?”
  • Canino driving fast through the rain to another appointment with death.
  • …bare as hell’s back yard.
  • Fate stage managed the whole thing.
  • “A man has the right to live his own life.” General Sternwood
  • He looked a lot more like a dead man than most dead men looked.
  • You were sleeping the big sleep.

And the last line of the novel:

  • On the way downtown I stopped at a bar and had a couple of double scotches. They didn’t do me any good. All they did was make me think of Silver-Wig, and I never saw her again.