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.
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.