I happened to read a few crappy books in a row of late. So I did what I always do when I can’t afford for the next book I get into to disappoint: I re-read a Raymond Chandler.
I picked “The Long Goodbye” off the shelf, because it’s my favorite. From the very first page, where Marlowe finds Terry Lennox falling drunk out of a Rolls Royce Silver Wraith in front of a club called The Dancers, I find myself hooked once again: “The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back. It didn’t bother him enough to give him the shakes."
Chandler is, for me, the greatest of writers. Taken with Hammett, I’d say he did everything for American literature that people always assume Hemingway did: made things simple, direct, tough and stark. But unlike Hemingway (and like Hammett), he had the gruff sense of humor of a man who didn’t quite buy into the system (he wasn’t a Communist like Hammett, but he’d lived in England and been in the Canadian airforce, which made him less than conventional). That’s why he wrote crime novels, I think. It’s an outsider’s genre, the writing venue of a man or woman who sees through things and yet remains positive enough to bother putting pen to paper.
Chandler, like Marlowe, seems to have “felt as out of place as a cocktail
onion on a banana split.” Frequently, so have I, when I’ve been among the
corporate or the gilded of this world –– and I have spent many an
uncomfortable day, month or year in those scurrilous circles. That, in
fact, may be why I’m a writer. Certainly it helps me cope with the weird
status a writer holds today, threatened and undervalued, and yet cherished
(though not always enough for someone to buy your book and pay for your
kids to go to college.)
Ray understood all that. In his essays he writes about how banal commercial
British cosy mysteries “really get me down.” In his interviews, he
complained that “you starve to death for ten years before your publisher
realizes you’re any good.”
Yes, Ray’s my man.