The Long EmbraceOnce you’ve read everything written by Raymond Chandler twice or three times a sense of melancholy intrudes.  You wish there were more but there isn’t.

There are a number of fine works about Chandler, including the distinguished biography written in 1976 by Frank McShane, and another by Tom Hiney written in 1997.  A number of works investigate Chandler’s Los Angeles and there is a collection of his letters.  A Chandler addict could go to the Chandler Archive at UCLA and read the real stuff, letters, manuscripts, notes, everything.

For my money, the best book ever written—heartbreaking, insightful, mysterious to its core, is novelist Judith Freeman’s The Long Embrace, published by Pantheon Books in 2007.  Freeman’s journey is multi-fold, but takes the form of a Quest.  Freeman undertakes to visit every single southern California residence known to have been inhabited by Chandler and his wife, Cissy Pascal, a metaphysical and psychological investigation framed by the wanderings of the writer and his famously eighteen-years-older spouse, whose inability to “settle down”, seethes with a conundrum of its own.  Married in 1924, the couple lived in 38 places in LA, Pasadena, Big Bear, Palm Springs, Idylwild, Riverside and San Bernardino, and moved into five different homes and apartments in La Jolla before Cissy’s death drove Chandler to total nomadism and death by alcohol.

Like all great books, The Long Embrace is beautifully written, deeply engaged, and thoroughly researched.   Why would they wander, taking with them their large collection of glass animal figurines, their cats, their few possessions, blowing into and out of a succession of fairly anonymous furnished places that have grown, with the years, increasingly unknown?  What on earth could have been driving them, pushing them towards ever more desperate measures to stay moving, even when illness would have dictated otherwise?

And like all great books, The Long Embrace furthers a greater agenda—as Jonathan Lethem argues in a jacket blurb, Freeman’s book “is a meditation on marriage, a persuasive biographical and literary study, and best of all, a confessional fugue on the act of writing itself.”

Philip Marlow rescued Chandler from utter failure in life, at least financially.  But I’m reminded of an early story by Chandler titled “Red Wind”, where the Santa Ana wind blowing off the Santa Monica mountains causes all kinds of grief, a deeply malevolent force.

I’ve read The Long Embrace twice now and the melancholy is setting in.