21.8.10

Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye


With the publication of The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler bid his final farewell as a mystery novelist. Still at the height of his powers, Chandler wrote this seventh and last Philip Marlowe mystery in 1953. It won the coveted Edgar Allan Poe Award.

The story begins with Marlowe helping a stranger named Terry Lennox. They strike up a brief acquaintance. One morning Lennox appears on the detective’s doorstep and asks for assistance. Marlowe helps him flee the country, an action that makes him an unwitting accessory in the murder of Lennox’s wife. Soon after Lennox’s flight, Marlowe hears news of his suicide. The twists and turns of the plot are especially gripping since Marlowe is personally involved in the case. His life is continually at risk.

A tough guy in a brutal world, Marlowe ruminates on his life as a private detective:
You don’t get rich, you don’t often have much fun. Sometimes you get beaten up or shot at or tossed into the jailhouse. Once in a long while you get dead. Every other month you decide to give it up and find some sensible occupation while you can still walk without shaking your head. (610)
The perennial theme of his novels is “big-city loneliness.” Marlow “experiences the wry pain of a sensitive man coping with the roughest elements of a corrupt society” (Macdonald 1973, 19). But he never gives up his battle for justice in an unjust world.

The language of the novel is characteristic of the hard-boiled style of writing and suited to this violent world. In my post on The Big Sleep, I discussed Chandler’s use of colloquial language. “The realistic style,” according to Chandler,
is easy to abuse: from haste, from lack of awareness, from inability to bridge the chasm that lies between what a writer would like to be able to say and what he actually knows how to say. It is easy to fake; brutality is not strength, flipness is not wit, edge-of-the-chair writing can be as boring as flat writing.
Unlike the lesser novelists he refers to, Chandler is a master of this realistic style. His writing reminds readers of Hemingway’s novels. Beekman concludes that Chandler’s writing is the hallmark of the American style, his diction “a mixture of colloquial and poetic language, producing a style which is never purely realistic yet always concrete – Chandler seldom apostrophizes abstraction” (1973, 159).

The ending of this novel is a blockbuster. You will not easily forget The Long Goodbye. Like its title (and the title The Big Sleep), this novel reverberates, drawing our attention to the profundities of existence.

In a Times article about Chandler, Boyd (2008) claims:
Raymond Chandler dominates the crime novel in the way that Anton Chekhov dominates the short story – it’s almost impossible to imagine the genre as we know it today without being conscious of the long shadow he has cast over almost all writers that followed him. . .

In the seven novels he wrote – and the twenty or so short stories – he took the trashy pulp-fiction, hardboiled detective story and turned it into something highly sophisticated and nuanced – some might say profound.
The Long Goodbye is certainly one of Macdonald’s finest novels.

Beekman, E. M. “Raymond Chandler and an American Genre.” The Massachusetts Review 14, no. 1 (1973): 149-173.


Boyd, William. “Raymond Chandler; The 50 Greatest Crime Writers.” The Times. April 19, 2008.
 
Chandler, Raymond. The Long Goodbye. 1953. In The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye. New York: Everyman, 2002.

Macdonald, Ross. “The Writer as Detective Hero.” In Crime Writing. Santa Barbara, CA: Capra Press, 1973, 9-24.