Saturday, March 15, 2008

Chandler, "One Book, One Chicago" and The Outfit

by Libby Hellmann



Last Friday Mayor Daley held a press conference to announce the Chicago Public Library’s spring selection for the One Book,One Chicago program. For the first time since the program’s inception the choice was a crime fiction novel: Raymond Chandler’s THE LONG GOODBYE. Combined with the National Endowment of the Arts selection of THE MALTESE FALCON as their "book to read", this is a very good year for crime fiction, no?


The Outfit will take part in the THE LONG GOODBYE program by blogging about the book and Chandler for two weeks starting Monday, April 14. In addition to the seven of us, some "friends of the Outfit" will be joining us. We’re pretty excited, and we hope you’ll want to be part of the discussion too.

For now – although we’re not officially starting yet – I wanted to share with you the eloquent comments Sean Chercover made at the press conference. BTw, Sean wanted me to make sure I mentioned that Marcus and Sara contributed to the speech as well.

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On behalf of my fellow members of the Outfit Collection: Libby Fischer Hellmann, Sara Paretsky, Barbara D’Amato, Michael Allen Dymmoch, Kevin Guilfoile, and Marcus Sakey, I’d like to thank Mayor Daley, Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey, the Chicago Public Library Foundation for their strong support of the One Book, One Chicago program. And to the dedicated librarians across Chicago who works so hard to make it a reality. We are truly in your debt.

We came together as The Outfit Collective, in part, to raise awareness about Chicago’s growing reputation as a hotbed for contemporary crime fiction. So we were thrilled to learn that, for the first time, a classic crime novel has been chosen as the featured book.

I think the entire city is in for a treat.

It is often said that crime fiction has taken up the mantle once held by the Victorian Social Novel, and later the American Industrial Novel. That crime fiction offers the best opportunity for writers and readers to examine the society in which we live… to address its ills and take note of its blessings.

Raymond Chandler’s THE LONG GOODBYE was one of the first detective novels to embrace that lofty goal. Here we find the place where genre fiction and literary fiction meet. The crossroads.

Chandler owned Los Angeles like Nelson Algren owned Chicago. Long-time readers of Algren will find much to love the THE LONG GOODBYE. It is Chandler’s most ambitious, most political novel, and it has inspired generations of crime writers to boldly take on the bigger issues.

Ross MacDonald said that Chandler “wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence.” And it’s true. Chandler’s stories resonate with a gritty kind of romanticism. And he did write like an angel. He told stories that make you think, and used language that makes you feel.

What sets this book apart, what makes it important, are the difficult truths it tells us about the world. The world then and the world now.

Chandler is at his best when he’s talking about social issues, taking on politics, society, religion, commercialism. Hypocrisy and corruption were Chandler’s favorite targets and he went after them relentlessly, no matter where he found them.

Chandler was a firebrand and his words still burn.

On America’s increased commercialism, he writes, “We make the finest packages in the world… the stuff inside is mostly junk.” He calls a situation “as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find anywhere outside an advertising agency.” He writes, “There ain’t no clean way to make a hundred million bucks.:

The issues he raises, and the anger behind them, are as relevant today as they were then. Maybe more so.

Chandler came from the hard-boiled school and wrote hard-boiled stories, but he never succumbed to nihilism. He believed in things like justice and honor and loyalty. Above all, loyalty. And although those vales did not always triumph in his stories, he believed they were values worth fighting for.

In private eye Philip Marlowe, Chandler gave us a modern and complex her. A man not always heroic by society’s standards, and who sometimes fails even by his own standards. Marlowe sees what’s wrong in our world, and he forces himself – and us – to look at it squarely, even when he can’t change it. Marlowe pays a high price for this knowledge, but Chandler insists that the cost of willful blindness would be ever higher still.

Putting all the highfallutin’ stuff aside, THE LONG GOODBYE is a hell of a great read. It’s an enormous amount of fun, filled with twists and tension and action that will keep you up way past bedtime.

Over the coming months, members of the Outfit Collective will be participating in the One Book One Chicago program. We’ll be blogging, conducting workshops, and appearing at libraries across the Chicago area. We hope to share some of our passion for the work of Raymond Chandler.

So dive in, Chicago, and enjoy the ride.


Stay tuned... we'll have more in a few weeks. And Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.

28 comments:

R.J. Mangahas said...

Can't wait for this one. I love Raymond Chandler.

Maryann Mercer said...

What an inspired choice-and a great speech as well. This should be fun, not to mention a great reason to go back and read Chandler again :o)

Wilfred Bereswill said...

This sounds like an awesome program. I can't wait for the blogs. I'd love to know what the outfit has in mind for the workshops, St. Louis is only a few hours away.

Mark Combes said...

Thanks for sharing the speach Libby - and well said Sean. Indeed, Chicago is the hotbed for crime fiction these days.

guyot said...

Initially, I was going to make some goofy comment aimed at Sean.

But this is just too cool to do that.

I applaud Chicago, and The Outfit Collective, and librarians everywhere.

Chapman said...

Great speech. I'm very excited about this. Chandler's work was my introduction to detective fiction as a kid and it hasn't lost its allure (or influence) over the years.
I've always thought that Chandler was undervalued because of his pulp beginnings. Now everyone is raving about Cormac MCarthy who essentially writes pulp fiction without punctuation. It's time Chandler got his props. He has plenty to say about writers and writing in The Long Goodbye, too.
On the off chance that someone reading this hasn't seen the Robert Altman film version of The Long Goodbye, it's worth a look. It's not Chandler. Or rather, it's Chandler filtered through Altman and Gould and the cultural milieu of the early 1970s, but after reading the novel it might be fun to pop in the dvd, sit back, and nibble a couple of gimlets.

David J. Montgomery said...

This is just further proof that Chicago is a great town for crime fiction.

Very happy to see this.

Matt Mezger said...

A great book. Hardboiled the full ten minutes, Chandler slowly develops this narration until his characters fairly claw for life, only to be beaten, shot or robbed of anything meaningful in their soured human relations. Loyaly, honor, even love cannot save us from our own anger and witless violence, and cowardice not here, or there.

Sara Paretsky said...

Libby, thanks for letting us all see Sean's remarks. What a talk!

Cameron Hughes said...

I always thought Chandler was better than Hammet, but NOT better than Ross McDonald

matt mezger said...

Chandler and Hollywood cross-pollinated each in the forties culminatining in arguably his best work in original screenplays, Double Indemnity the most well remembered of them. But Chandler the drunk got burned bad in Hollywood, on the Blue Dahlia in particular, hence his retreat to La Jolla and the quack cures and TLG is that story also.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Great talk, Sean!

But I do miss whatever guyot's goofy comment might have been.

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