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Somewhere between the harshness of Frank McShane's biography and the apologetics of Tom Hiney's later work lies the true essence of Raymond Chandler. Wolfe's "Something Darker Than Night: The Case of Raymond Chandler" seeks to fill that gap, and -- I believe -- largely succeeds. Wolfe's approach to Chandler is to dissect his writings, which he does with all the analytical skills and precision of an English teacher (at the time of this book, Wolfe was associate professor of English at University of Missouri - St. Louis). Doing this, and unlike most other Chandler scholars, he refuses to take a single word or phrase at face value. He additionally resists the fairly common assumption that Chandler and Phillip Marlowe were "one and the same," or that Marlowe was at all times merely an alter-ego or "projection" of Chandler. As a result of both factors, both writer and creation emerge into the light as more fully rounded individuals. Wolfe does occasionally fall astray: In discussing "The Long Goodbye," for example, he notes that Marlowe, having relocated to a small house on Yucca Avenue, has "taken part in the 50s 'white flight to the suburbs'." In this -- which he subsequently conceded in correspondence -- Wolfe is victimized by an ignorance of Los Angeles history and demographics of that era. Likewise, in his otherwise excellent synopsis of "Double Indemnity" he neglects to distinguish between the original screenplay and the finished film version, a failing which can cause more than a moment's confusion for the reader who has seen the movie. Such flaws are minor considerations. Wolfe's study is refreshingly devoid of "personal agenda:" he neither excoriates nor excuses Chandler's personal failings.Read more ›
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I think a good book is one you want to read twice. I have read all of Raymond Chandler at least five times. On that scale I wouldn't read this book at all.
This is a long hard slog through moral dilemmas, paradoxes, masks, symbols, meanings that no-one else sees and everything that made you hate English in High School. It was probably aimed at others in the Raymond Chandler trade and for all I know may be excellent in that company.
Wolfe sometimes lapses from professional detachment to attack Marlowe for not marrying Anne Riordan, making mistakes, not liking children, being self-destructive, not making a good income, having a bad attitude and not trying to achieve wholeness. One of my favorite sentences "the great fat solid Pacific trudging in to shore like a scrub-woman going home" is dismissed as simply evidence of Marlowe's malice and irritability.
I did get one thing from this book. I had never noticed that in The Little Sister "the sweaty greasy kitchens that would have poisoned a toad" in Ch. 12 is followed by the appearance of Joseph P Toad in Ch 13. Maybe Chandler was getting us ready. Still, it's a pretty hard-won nugget.
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