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The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved    by Judith Freeman Amazon.com order for
Long Embrace
by Judith Freeman
Order:  USA  Can
Pantheon, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Judith Freeman's The Long Embrace, an engrossing biography of Raymond Chandler, is a compassionate, well-written tribute to Chandler, who was best known for his mystery novels featuring Phillip Marlowe. He started his career writing mainstream fiction in a writing course. (Gives hope to us wannabe writers.) He was also a man of mystery as well as a mystery writer; a man driven by his own demons and those of his wife Cissy.

The Long Embrace is an account of their over thirty-year marriage. Chandler was a solitary man wed to a woman eighteen years older than himself. They couldn't seem to settle down in any one spot, moving at least three dozen times in their life together.

Chandler started his writing career in his thirties after being let go from his position as an accountant for an oil company. He graduated to writing screen plays and worked at one time very closely with Billy Wilder. Unfortunately, his new career became increasingly difficult as Chandler found facing blank pages hard to cope with. At times, it might take him up to six months to complete a revision. Also, his concern for his beloved and ailing Cissy took more and more of his time and dwindling energy.

The minutiae of his everyday life definitely creates an interest in the man, as the author roams the streets of Los Angeles to view the Chandler domiciles. Her impressions of the areas, the neighborhoods, and the houses and apartments themselves, as seen through her eyes imprints on the reader's mind just how Cissy and Ray lived. What they saw everyday. What was available to them in the immediate vicinities.

Chandler's silent cry that life must be shared jumps out on almost every page. His fictional detective Phillip Marlowe reflects Chandler's own perspectives in many ways as did other characters in his books. His female players were almost always hard boiled and sexually active - very different from his Cissy, a beautiful and gentle woman. He was a lonely man even when surrounded by others. His friends and associates found his acerbic manner hard to tolerate and this only added to his aloneness. His alcohol consumption reached unbelievable heights and necessitated many trips to rehab facilities.

It is often hard to accept that someone you have respect for is not perfect. Perfection is not obvious in this biography. Freeman, though, looks inside and, instead of simply listing his transgressions, finds sympathy for the man behind the writer. It's an excruciatingly truthfully written book that is hard to put down. In today's world, The Long Embrace might be called an exposť, but Freeman is more gentle than that.

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