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Raymond Chandler

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Raymond Chandler was an American pulp writer who, along with Dashiell Hammett, pioneered the noir crime novel.  His most famous works include The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, and the screenplay for Double Indemnity. While Chandler admittedly borrowed his terse, fast paced prose style from Hammett, it was Chandler who introduced the elaborate, gritty simile device that is now considered the staple of the hardboiled genre:

She’s a charming middle age lady with a face like a bucket of mud and if she’s washed her hair since Coolidge’s second term, I’ll eat my spare tire, rim and all.   — Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 6)

Noir, it could be argued, by me, is the most essentially American form of storytelling.  American because it revels in the dark consequences of aspiration; American because even the rich are miserable; American because it is dystopian and the dystopia is here; and American because it was born there, anyway, and I can’t at the moment think of another literary genre that can claim that.  And the truth is noir, when it is good, is extremely psychological and self-conscious.  It presents a world of black and white hats, and yet noir writers can’t stop themselves from actively muddying this distinction.  Perhaps the most famous and cliched moment in hardboiled fiction is when the tough protagonist finally sets everything right, and then proceeds to scorn the very woman he has pined after for the entire book.  He always has his reasons, but the act never fails to come off as thinly veiled self-flagellation, as if he is punishing himself for feeling anything whatsoever by denying himself that which could actually make him happy.  The writers who have used this familiar device (and Chandler is not above the classics) demonstrate the basic silliness of operating strictly from a “code,” while at the same time romanticizing such moral asceticism.  If that contradiction doesn’t say somethin really integral about America, I’m not sure anything else can.

Here are some things about Chandler:

A great series of photos from locations in Chandler’s novels.  Chandler wrote primarily about San Francisco, a place I feel that I know from reading his books.  I expect when I visit that everyone will be wearing hats and calling each other “Mac.”

A pretty entertaining collection of “Chandlerisms,” the turns of phrase that made him famous and make his prose so damn fun to read.

And a really awesome recording of an interview of Raymond Chandler, conducted by (!) Sir Ian Flemming.

(Note: There are no real large excerpts of the author’s work in this post.  That kind of betrays the stated intention of this blog, yes, but all of Chandler’s stories are still heavily anthologized, and his books remain under copywrite.  So go out and buy The Long Goodbye, you damn doity rat.)


Written by Peter Kelly

January 9, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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One Response

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  1. You write that, “Chandler wrote primarily about San Francisco.” You are thinking of Dashiell Hammett. The novels of Raymond Chandler take place almost exclusively in the greater Los Angeles area.

    Erik Prime

    July 25, 2009 at 5:28 pm

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