June 10, 2013

Crime-Fiction Issue: "An Inch and a Half of Glory"

By Dashiell Hammett
~4700 words

An unassuming man has trouble dealing with the notoriety he gains after rescuing a child from a burning building.

Earl Parish's fame begins when a brief article—"an inch and a half of simple news"—about his bravery appears in the local paper. The congratulations he receives at work bring him embarrassment but also secret delight, which he comes to miss when they die down. He develops a cavalier attitude toward others that leads to his dismissal from work as well as from several subsequent jobs, and his desire for glory leads him into another burning building, only to end up rescuing a kitten.

The psychological depth of the main character is well done. While the overall evolution he undergoes might strain credibility, the description of each point along the way is well worth reading, from his vacillation before the initial burning building, fearful of how his actions will be interpreted; to his awkwardness at work, where he finally learns to accept praise without perspiring; to his feelings of superiority, encapsulated in the mantra he loves to recite ("All their ancestral courage has been distilled by industrialism out of their veins"); to his descent into madness, which leads him to live on the streets until he finds another burning building in which to rush.

The writing is uneven, at times weak and repetitive. "Nevertheless," we are told, "it was pleasant to lie across his bed…" and then, in the very next sentence, "Lying across the bed, he found these things pleasant." Other times, it seems overly enigmatic or out of perspective: "Out of sight, the suspended blow in the child's face was without power." Finally, the last section of the story feels unnecessary. Given the title and the evolution of Parish's character, wouldn't the flurry of artificial snow from the shredded newspaper articles, at the end of the penultimate section, have been an ideal place to end?

"An Inch and a Half of Glory" is an entertaining read that, like many posthumous pieces, has an unpolished feel to it.


Also from the crime-fiction issue: "Brotherly Love," "Scenes of the Crime," "Happy Trails," "Slide to Unlock," "Rough Deeds."

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