Friday, March 13, 2020

The Beat of a Different Drum

What book(s) surprised you by the impact it had on you?

by Paul D. Marks

There’s been many books over the years that have had an impact on me one way or another.
And I know that a lot of people were influenced by Catcher in the Rye, but I didn’t read it till I was an adult. Others were inspired by Tolkien, but I’ve never read him. Sorry, I’m just not into fantasy. Music had and still has a great influence on me, as does Edward Hopper’s art, but that isn’t the question.

So, if I was going to pick a crime novel it would probably be Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, even though it’s not my favorite Chandler. That would be The Long Goodbye. But if we’re talking about a book—of any genre—that truly surprised, maybe more than any other, it wouldn’t be a crime novel. And, in fact, this question did actually bring up a lot of “stuff” for me, because the book that I’m going to talk about is The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. If I have to pick one book that really surprised me with the impact it had on me this is it. As with a lot of books, I had seen the movie with Tyrone Power first and I liked it a lot. I related a lot to his character. So I figured I’d read the book.

The Razor’s Edge is the story of Larry Darrell, a World War I vet who’s traumatized and disillusioned by the war, and looking for meaning in its aftermath. Larry’s struggle for meaning in a seeming meaningless and insane world struck a chord with me. As did the things he gave up to achieve some kind of meaning and inner peace (I’m still working on the last thing in particular…).

After high school I couldn’t wait to get out of the house, unlike kids these days. I did some interesting things that are maybe better left for another time. But eventually you have to settle down and figure out what you’re going to do with your life and find some kind of equilibrium. For Larry the answer, at least somewhat, can be found in Eastern religion. And though the story is very personal to me, I didn’t do what Larry does in terms of going to India and meeting with a guru, or even getting into Eastern religion, that’s not my style. But his struggle for meaning and purpose certainly resonated with me. I’m still searching because like Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Though the unexamined life is probably a lot more fun than the examined one.

Larry wants to “loaf,” take things slowly, stop and smell the roses, not something I’m good at. But, like Larry, I certainly didn’t go the approved path that my parents would have preferred and I think they might have thought I was loafing sometimes ’cause they didn’t understand the life of an “artist”. I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious.

I always had this fantasy of being an expat on the Left Bank like Hemingway and the Lost Generation after World War I. Instead I went to bars in Hollywood and West L.A. and hung with other writers there. I don’t think it was quite the same. But what I did do was dedicate myself to being a writer and trying to have some success at it. As we all know that comes with many ups and downs and rejections and it’s the few and far between who are the overnight successes. But most of us toil in obscurity and do it because we can do nothing else. And if we’re lucky we do achieve some level of success.

There’s been two movies, that I’m aware of, based on this book. They are the 1946 Tyrone Power version and the 1984 Bill Murray version. I like the former better, though the latter is growing on me. And, as an aside, I remember seeing Bill Murray on the Warner Brothers lot, though it was probably called The Burbank Studios at the time, the day after it opened, reading the reviews in the paper.

So to bring this full circle: I think The Razor’s Edge helped me achieve a level of some sort of sanity and peace, though not always. Ask people who knew me when I was younger and they’ll tell you about all the fights, verbal and physical, they saw me get into (and I ain’t a big guy). My wife has also helped calm me, but I still have my moments. But the Razor’s Edge surprised in the sense of how much I related to it. How much I related to the character of Larry and what Maugham was writing about. It really spoke to me and helped give me a better perspective on life. Now, if I could just keep that in mind more of the time…

What about you? What book/s surprised you and why?


And now for the usual BSP:

Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books - The Blues Don't Care:

“There are all the essential elements for an engrossing read: good guys, bad guys, gangsters and crooked policemen, and through it all, an extremely well written sense of believable realism.”
            —Discovering Diamonds Reviews, Independent Reviews of the Best in Historical Fiction (

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K. A. Laity said...

A fave of mine, too. I love the Murray film version; less elegiac than the Power film. Neither really captures the depths of the book, but they've led many more to read the book. Or perhaps it's just Maugham's 'Moorish' symbol on the cover.

GBPool said...

A lot of books and movies made an impression on me. Sometimes I think it's like looking in a mirror when we see who we are becoming whether it's a fictional character on the screen or a real one in a biography. We can identify with these people and discover who we really are inside.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Paul. I'm going to check out The Razor’s Edge.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, K.A. I agree with you that neither movie really captures the depth of the book. I think it’s often hard for a movie to go as deep or work on as many layers as some books. But I do enjoy them both. And, as I said, I’m starting to enjoy the Murray version more and more all the time.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Gayle. I agree that often movies and books help us see who we are by reflecting back on us. They give us some perspective.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Dietrich. I hope you’ll enjoy it. It’s definitely different than the crime novels we love so much.

Paul D Brazill said...

Top book and both films are really good. Great song from Defunkt, too.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Paul. And for the link. I'll check it out.