Fifty Years into Raymond Chandler’s Big Sleep, Marlowe Still Speaks


Such is the subject of some fine summarizing in this week’s LA Weekly, which deserves ongoing props for going down with a fight and continuing to publish worthy writing on topics of interest despite the bosses and maladies of print. Highlights from this week’s pleasant surprise:

He also got American culture, foresaw how a certain kind of casual, endemic, everyday violence would become a part of our future, and how money would drive everything. “Big money is big power,” he wrote, “and big power gets used wrong. It’s the system. Maybe it’s the best we can get, but it still ain’t any Ivory Soap deal.”

Americans, he said, were “a big, rough, rich, wild people, and crime is the price we pay for it.” He felt the only difference between crime and business was that you had to have capital for business. As S.J. Perelman noted, Chandler was L.A.’s finest social historian, a cultural critic who could draw a bead on society and let it have it with both barrels

Toward the end of his life Chandler said, “The story of our time isn’t the story of war or the atomic bomb. It’s the story of an idealist married to a gangster and how their children and home life turn out.” He could be describing The Sopranos.

Only it isn’t The Sopranos. It’s us. It’s the story of our time, just as he said, the unending and timeless tale of America, with its idealists on one end of the ideological spectrum, and its gangsters on the other, be they Wall Street crooks or your ordinary garden-variety thugs. We are the children he spoke of. And we are still waiting, 50 years after Chandler’s death — with ever more urgent concerns filling our minds — to see just how our collective home life will turn out.

Also of note is Gendy’s must read trip with the brothers Anderson (that would be Kurt, and his piano-tuning, Heraclitus-quoting brother).

P.s. Favorite Big Sleep trivia: on the set of the 1946 film version, there was some discussion about the famously convoluted plot, specifically about who had killed the butler, Owen Taylor. No one know. Not Howard Hawks or William Faulkner or Leigh Brackett any one else who had worked on the screen play. Someone sent Chandler a telegram to ask him. He didn’t know either.

Joshuah Bearman has written about CIA missions, jewel thieves, deranged private investigators, aspiring Fabios, bitter rivalry among dueling Santa Clauses, and the metaphysical implications of being the world's greatest Pac Man player. His article for Wired became the movie Argo. More from this author →