Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Mysterious Something in the Light - The Life of Raymond Chandler by Tom Williams

Published by The Chicago Review Press

Raymond Chandler - July 23, 1888 – March 26, 1959
Though the subject of Raymond Chandler was an exciting one to my mind, I often found this book to be a little repetitive. However, the complexity of this man was quite fascinating and I did learn a lot from this biographical history. Unfortunately, many of his formative early years seem to be based more on supposition than researched facts, but perhaps there were few facts available to research. On the other hand, he was a prolific letter-writer even while young and much of the biography is based on quoted snippets from those letters. Born the son of an alcoholic, it is not surprising that though he abhorred alcoholism, he would fall into the same trap, regardless of how he felt about it.

Chandler appears to have been a lonely boy who never really completely grew up. The need to be important and powerful, the need to have close friends and a wife who loves him wholeheartedly plays as a theme throughout the book. I felt for him, a tribute to Tom Williams, who obviously 'got' him. Raymond Chandler, a world-famous author whose work lives on decades after his death, is definitely an enigma, but I feel at his core he is a little boy lost, often has no idea of his impact and yet irrationally thinks he does.

The author is not just giving nod to a list of Chandler's books, but looks at them, takes them apart and puts them back together again, using his own comments. In fact, that is exactly how Chandler himself looked and learned how to write a book. He lived in Chicago and in Los Angeles in what might be called their heyday, but was at the time gangster-ruled. Chicago had nothing on Los Angeles for corruption. Here we are not talking about Hollywood but the fast rise to wealth from oil, the collapse of morals from the Depression and the resulting city corruption. He was a product of his time, yet in his mind he lived in an earlier time.

Here, then, is the root of Ray Chandler's books and his association, in writing, of his character Philip Marlowe, and later to his screenplays. I think it is honest to say his personal life revolved around three main themes: His deep love for his older wife to whom he was married until her death; his commitment to literary writing rather than grinding out corruption and murder, but with a similar theme; his alcoholism. A brilliant man, but complicated and driven.

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