Raymond Chandler's long goodbye: Stranger Than Fiction

Posted by Hunter Prichard

Phillip Marlowe, the tough minded, no-BS private investigator memorialized in the work of crime author Raymond Chandler, has long since been a character who lives out on the broken path, only coming into connection with society during the times he is the most needed.

Marlowe is not the modern-day cowboy on a white horse, riding into town on conviction and foundation of heroism, destined to save ‘the innocents' from the means of corruption. The people that Marlowe gets tangled with are not innocent. They are people who see complete, unabashed pleasure in crime.

Marlowe has no friends. He is apprehensive of everyone he meets, and with good reason: there are no characters in this book that any reader would classify as ‘good.'

There also seems to be something off about Marlowe himself.

With his curt way of speaking (Chandler was a master of dialogue) and the romantic way he toys with the hoodlums, criminals and detectives that he encounters, it is no surprise that this character has become the idol for modern crime fighters.

Chandler's 1953 novel "The Long Goodbye" is Marlowe's finest tale. Although hard-boiled, cynical characters and ruthless dialogue perfect the language, the plot is wildly confusing.

Like Marlowe, sometimes we do not know who is who, or where we are. It is difficult to give away even a small bit of the plot of this noir novel, as the story is constantly building upon itself — like that of a house of cards — so even one detail about the first sequence would ruin the story.

Alcoholism plays a large role in the novel. Two major characters are heavily influenced by alcohol.

One is Terry Lennox, the shabby husband of a wealthy heiress whose misdeeds jump-start the story.

The second is the intimidating writer Roger Wade. Wade is a giant man who has a habit of beating his wife and then disappearing for long stretches of time. One would think that Wade's wife, Eileen, would be a sympathetic character, but she is not. These characters rely heavily on liquor.

Marlowe, who only drinks on occasion, is able to comment on all the debauchery around him while still remaining civil in his head. Marlowe remarks on how disturbing it is to see men put down to the turf because of their alcoholism.

Chandler, who was a heavy drinker, knew much about the powerful temptation. Although the novel is littered with incidents in which drinkers find themselves near dead and forgotten, there is also something vaguely romantic about Chandler's version of the alcoholic.

There are comments made that idolize F. Scott Fitzgerald and link him with Wade; drunks are supremely categorized as "cunning" and "prideful."

One of the most quotable lines about the habit of alcohol comes from the mouth of Lennox, who says, "Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl's clothes off."

As the plot thickens, Marlowe remains the tough-dog soldier on the outside looking in. He trusts no one and is convinced that even the surest of all statements and best poker faces are not the case. He is the ultimate outsider. He is someone who has not been pushed to the outside, but who has seen enough of "the world"  to understand that he does not want anything to do with it.

I read that a "noir hero" is someone who is always able to act with nobility. The bad guys in crime books understand evil, know that they are bad and relish in the fact that they are so.

A noir hero is a good guy who has suffered a bit. There is not an ounce of tenderness in the way that Marlowe moves. He is constantly searching for the next criminal, the next villain, the next detective case.

Marlowe surely has suffered. Still, a reader questions if he has brought the pain upon himself.

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