Preface by Jonathan Lethem
Charta Art Books
I spent a few days in Santa Cruz this spring. Wrong end of California, but I still saw parts of it through Raymond Chandler's eyes.
Others have done the same, whether in Santa Cruz or elsewhere. Jonathan Lethem's preface to this collection of Chandler excerpts and Catherine Corman's photographs accounts nicely for the rich visual associations Chandler conjures up — and the reasons have nothing to do with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall or Martha Vickers. "In Chandler," Lethem says, "the hardboiled style becomes above all a way of seeing, not so far from photography itself."
The preface and the photographer's own introduction play heavily on solitude in Los Angeles and in Chandler's own work, invoking Edward Hopper's paintings, for example. And the photos are of buildings, fences, trees, airplanes — and none of people.
Here are some of the excerpts that Corman has illustrated with her lovely, lonely black-and-white pictures:
"We drove away from Las Olindas through a series of little dank beach towns with shack-like houses built down on the sand close to the rumble of the surf and larger houses built back on the slopes behind."and
"He had a good job in Wichita. I guess he just sort of wanted to come out here to California. Most everybody does."and
"The guy in the sports coat and yellow handkerchief got in and backed his car out and then stopped long enough to put on dark glasses and light a cigarette. After that he was gone."I'm ready to do some serious seeing when I read writing like that.
The excerpts are treats, bits of ominous description and philosophizing and Chandler's wonderfully erudite jokes that will send me back to my Chandler collection. Sometimes Corman makes the photo part of the story. A stark, empty corner of what looks like a street-level shop accompanies an excerpt about "Geiger Rare Books," the porn outlet in The Big Sleep. After Geiger and Carol Lundgren have cleared out, perhaps?
Two small complaints concern the book's lack of annotation. The locations lack identification, and the individual excerpts lack convenient citation by source. The former would have intrigued experienced Chandler readers, and the latter would have made a useful reading guide for those new to Chandler. But those are quibbles, for the book is not a Chandler travelogue, but a companion to his way of seeing the world.
© Peter Rozovsky 2009