If you follow Harold Bloom's logic that Shakespeare invented the human personality, then you could make an equally sweeping claim that Raymond Chandler invented the city of Los Angeles. In the Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, and down many other sinister alleyways in his noirish writing, Chandler took the proverbial "seventy-two of suburbs in search of a city" and imbued them with a dark, highly original cohesion.
At such an outrageous suggestion as his novels calling L.A. into existence, Chandler would no doubt have pitched a serious chuckle — probably over afternoon highballs at some magnificent, sun-drenched gin joint, now long abandoned.
He was a wretched alcoholic, Chandler, who produced his best work over the 10-year period when he swore off the sauce and labored over creating his style. Then, Hollywood came calling. Things went downhill from there. Big surprise.
Freeman spins a great biographical yarn about Chandler, and she manages to illuminate some interesting corners of L.A.'s past and present while she's at it.
She approaches at Chandler's life story by way of two defining themes:
- Chandler had a 37 year marriage to a woman 18 years his senior.
- Chandler lived in something like 50 apartments and houses during his life in Southern California.
Much of The Long Embrace's narrative involves Freeman tracking Chandler and his aging wife as they move from downtown, to the Westside, back eastward, out to the desert, down to La Jolla, back near downtown, etc, etc… It was a great way for a writer to get know his material, and it's a great way for a reader to get a feel for the rich, mysterious history of modern Los Angeles.