I don’t often find myself to interested in writers’ love lives, but Raymond Chandler’s does have a bit of intrigue. His marrying a woman 18 years his senior is at least unusual. So with Philip Marlowe’s chivalry in mind, I thought Judith Freeman’s The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved would be an interesting look at Chandler’s somewhat mysterious wife Cissy and their relationship, which was clearly very important to him.
Freeman was certainly taken with this relationship, but what she presents in The Long Embrace makes for a strange narrative. It turns out the Chandlers moved around a lot both before and during their marriage, living in various LA neighborhoods as well as the surrounding country and suburbs, eventually settling in La Jolla. Freeman covers Chandler and his wife through 35 moves, and her main technique is to narrate her own research efforts alongside their life stories. She drives around LA and looks for the apartments they lived in, some of which are razed, others remodeled, others apparently untouched over the decades.
While this technique is pretty standard, it’s fatal to the success of The Long Embrace. As Freeman drives around Chandler’s old haunts, disconcertingly calling him “Ray” at least half the time, she attempts to describe LA as it is now—or, as it was when she was doing this research (it’s not clear when that is). But as any Chandler fan should know, anyone else who tries to write about the city will come up short. An example:
Cissy and Ray had rented a number of places in this neighborhood, the area around the old Ambassador Hotel. The ambassador was now abandoned, closed up, and waiting for its next incarnation. The Los Angeles School District had recently taken possession of the property under the
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