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New book on the many faces of writer Raymond Chandler – people’s world

By on May 7, 2021 0

REACTOR on, fair use

Raymond Chandler, with Dashiell Hammett before him and Ross Macdonald after, made a surprising change in the detective story. As Chandler said, he took the novel away from those who commit murders with “hand-forged dueling guns, curare, and tropical fish” and returned it to the “kind of people who commit it for reasons, not just for providing a corpse. “

This passage from Chandler’s essay explaining his technique in “The Simple Art of Murder” is dripping with sarcasm, contempt and class analysis in its explanation of how the genre had been practiced by class detectives. Superior of Sherlock Holmes / Agatha Christie School.

Chandler goes to great lengths to argue that murder – and crime in general – is not committed for specious reasons and in a way that creates a headache for detectives or as clever ruse, or, as it is. still practiced in much of the serial killer literature. today, as an expression of an aberrant psychology.

A new book by Ken Fuller, Raymond Chandler: The man behind the mask, in its strongest moments focuses on Chandler’s implicit politics in his noir novels, in his emphasis on widespread corruption in capitalist society and his particular manifestation in Southern California which, along with his two other comrades, has opened up a space so that detective novels have a strong infusion of the social aspects of crime.

In Chandler’s interpretation, crimes are committed for profit or out of class antipathy by them, either as a means of establishing the fortune which then makes them respectable, or to maintain their position at the top. For my money, the best of Chandler’s novels in LA, the most explicitly conscious of the class in this regard, is The high window (called a few times The Brasher Duplicate), which focuses most directly on great fortunes and great crimes. Today we remember the Sackler family who paid next to no price for their role in promoting their drug oxycontin which led to the opioid crisis and thousands of deaths.

Fuller highlights a shift in Chandler in the wake of the House Un-American Activity Committee and the McCarthyist purges, in which he disavows progressive social content and hangs out for a period on “the non-communist left,” a movement and a moment that , as Fuller describes, was well funded by the CIA.

For Fuller, this turn in Chandler’s sympathies aligns both with his elite Eton-style upbringing and his profession of creating “literature,” leading to his perpetual disappointment that his work did not receive this. status, and his secret homosexuality: his main character, hardcore private investigator Philip Marlowe, constantly projected his anxiety around women.

Fuller has a reading of Chandler’s work, in the first half of the book, which sees his literary career as the building of The long goodbye, for Fuller Chandler’s only true literary novel, then suffered a precipitous decline. Here, the book is on a more tenuous basis. Judging Chandler on the somewhat archaic and elitist assumptions that his works are or are not “literature” – which admittedly is a bit of how he judged himself – strays from his actual literary contribution. Chandler let go of Hammett’s often critical view of the detective as a mercenary of the owner class and instead followed that other impulse in Hammett that allowed the detective, since he or she can go anywhere in search of the solution to the crime or to help a client, to be a sort of interrogator of the class system itself, constantly and smirking its assumptions.

This multilevel examination of a society fractured on class lines – and what manifestation of society is not more fractured than status-conscious Los Angeles?

Fuller’s way of illustrating Chandler’s literary failures, in a way that fills the book too much, is to painstakingly point out the inconsistencies of the plot, which Chandler was well aware of and never cared about too much. . His famous joke about moving the story forward was like, “Whenever I don’t know what to do, I ask someone to come into the room with a gun and start shooting. ” It seems a bit of a waste of time continuing to point out the jagged edges of Chandler’s plot when he, and most readers, don’t care too much, mainly because the themes and atmospheres are so strong.

The last aspect of Chandler’s work that Fuller points out is the way his repressed homosexuality plays out in his novels. Fuller makes a strong case by examining both life and novels for traces of this propensity that Chandler may never have acted on and, in that sense, pushes Chandler’s biographies forward. In fact, there is a whole range of critics who see black fiction, or badass fiction, as motivated by repressed and dissatisfied male relationships. The problem here however is the inability to tie what can be an unconscious motivation with the main line of the novels. How Does Repressed Homosexuality Affect Chandler’s View of Society?

One of the best studies in this field, that of Robert Corber In the name of national security: Hitchcock, homophobia and the political construction of gender in post-war America, describes how Hitchcock presents a quasi-gay relationship which is then abandoned and normalized by his main character, who takes refuge in political office and at the same time reverts to a heterosexual relationship in Strangers on a train, a screenplay written by Chandler. This reading then links the possible repression in the 1951 film to a broader repression or alteration of all kinds of positions and behavior following the HUAC hearings. Fuller, however, simply stops with his apparent proof of Chandler’s repressed homosexuality.

The man behind the mask worth reading for its close examination of Chandler’s open politics and how it played out in his novels. The book fails, however, to significantly credit Chandler not only for advancing the displayed class consciousness of his predecessor Hammett, but also for laying the groundwork for an even sharper class critique practiced by his successor Ross Macdonald. , who explored every dark nook and cranny of loathing and loathing generated by the failed capitalist illusion that Southern California was a new Eden and a land of boundless promise.

Ken fuller
Raymond Chandler: The Man Behind the Mask
Independently published, 2020.
$ 15.99, 290 pp.
ISBN-13: 979-8699320196


Dennis broe