From 'The Long Good-Bye', by Raymond Chandler
Here is Phillip Marlow and Terry Lennox in the opening pages of 'The Long Good-bye' in a passage whose excellence lies in the fusion of a number of writerly virtues:
'He looked up with a tired smile. "Maybe I can quit drinking one of these days. They all say that, don't they?"
"It takes about three years."
"Three years?" he looked shocked.
"Usually it does. It's a different world. You have to get used to a paler set of colours, a quieter lot of sounds. You have to allow for relapses. All the people you used to know well will get to be just a little strange. You won't even like most of them, and they won't like you too well."
"That wouldn't be much of a change," he said.'
(The Long Good-Bye, page 12.)
Let's look at what is superb about this passage:
1. Cadence: "a paler set of colours, a quieter lot of sounds" - this reads more like a Lord Tennyson couplet than dialog. Hear the swaying sound in the words "colours" and "quieter"? You may have to read it aloud to catch it.
2. Character: The uncanniness of Marlow's character is established by this brief passage. He is not just a man with a history but a man of insight and character, earned through hardship.
3. Plot. In context, Marlow doesn't know Lennox at this stage, and yet he comes out with this superb passage of experience. He opens up to Lennox, and by doing so wins both Lennox's and our attentions.
4. Accuracy. Through my own efforts to clearly state the reality principle, I notice that it only comes out clearly when it is contrasted with a set of delusions. Set out on its own, the reality principle sounds like either a theory or a truism, rather than a profound actuality. In the above passage, Marlow implicitly contrasts the reality principle with the delusions of alcoholism. He voices the reality of being sober to Lennox in a dispassionate and precise way. It is superb not simply because it is factual but also because it is true.