Raymond Chandler is one of those writers whose books call out to me every couple of years, the answer to which is taking down one of his seven novels or several books of stories and submerging myself in the dank shadows of his landscape—Los Angeles, circa 1940s.
A few months ago a friend in Los Angeles recommended a book on the subject of Raymond Chandler. The book is one called, The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, by Judith Freeman; published in 2007. It is a strange and captivating tale Ms Freeman tells, and it is as much about the city of Los Angeles as it is about Ray and his wife, Cissy Pascal. Geography, setting and corruption are central characters in the work of Chandler, and influenced his writing as much as the presence of his longtime wife. In telling her story, Freeman wraps the city and its tarnished personality securely around her human characters.
From early on Freeman realized that the mystery couple, Ray and Cissy lived a peripatetic lifestyle grounded in something central to their city view, to their understanding of the city’s first-of-a-kind development throughout the years from 1913 to 1954. During the years of their marriage (1924-1953) the couple never left California, while living a few months in one rented apartment or house, before moving to another. Freeman researched and visited most of the thirty-six places the couple lived.
The life of Raymond Chandler, as well as his writing were strongly colored by the woman he loved, a beautiful woman eighteen years older than he. From the beginning to the end, Cissy’s true age was a hidden secret, and it was some years before Ray realized he had married a woman almost old enough to be his mother. But to her credit, Cissy was far more than a pretty face; a woman of intelligence, talent and wit enough to bedazzle Ray Chandler. Not a storybook or fairy tale match, but one that included devotion and love, as well as need.
The Long Embrace gives the Raymond Chandler fan a bounty of ideas on how the stories and novels were conceived and written. We also see how an alcoholic bookkeeper fired from the oil business became the creator of Philip Marlowe, the iconic private eye. Freeman uncovers what was almost an umbilical cord connecting Chandler’s adopted home to his story settings.
‘A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness.’ — THE LONG GOODBYE
The Long Embrace is ostensibly about a writer and the woman in his life, but it is in every way also a book about the city of Los Angeles between 1913 and 1954, and it is a fascinating read. A big thanks to Shelby for the recommendation. I got the book first at the library, but ordered a copy to keep before I was halfway through the library copy.