Re: RARA-AVIS: Oates reviews Chandler

James Rogers (
Thu, 15 Jan 1998 23:58:15 -0600 (CST) At 01:12 PM 1/14/98 +0000, you wrote:
>I have a little file with Joyce Carol Oates's 1995 review in the NYRB of
>the Library of America reissue of Raymond Chandler's stories and novels.
>While I'm hisitant to post the article publicly, anyone wanting a copy
>for personal use and for the sole purpose of scholarly study (!) can
>e-mail me. This is in response to private queries regarding Oates and
>Chandler (more precisely, her antipathy to his work and my antipathy to
>her criticism).

Many thanks to Mario Taoboda for his contribution to "scholarly
study". Now that I have had time to brood and to have a couple of brews (
like Marlowe, I do my best work this way), I feel adequately prepared to
blast the prolific but rather dull JCO.
First of all, almost anyone who has ever gone through a phase of
reading the NY Times Book Review can recognize a pre-meditated hatchet job,
which is what we have here. Some of her criticisms may be valid....I find it
hard to argue that _Long Goodbye_ doesn't have a dimension of latent
homosexuality....but more often they depend on simple assertions in place3
of real criticisms. Surely a statement to the effect that _Farewell, My
Lovely_ is "a very bad book" until chap. 8_deserves a bit more support?
Still more unfair is that she treats Chandler's complaint that a mystery is
difficult to write in an artistic manner because the plot requires that the
characters behave in unnatural ways. She offers as a counter-example
Dickens's plotting - really? Most folks would concede, I believe, that the
weak plotting in Dickens is in fact a major stumbling block to appreciating
his books, After all, even Chandler never disposed of a villain through
spontaneous combustion, as did CD. She does not appear to believe Chandler's
(correct) assertion that a DA might employ an independent investigator or
that a member of the Police force might be assigned to such work. She
ignores completeluy the statement by Chandler that his works were often
intednded to burlesque the genre, while apparantly according Ellroys books
the post-modern tribute of being "parody" (demonstrating that she has not
grasped much about Ellroy either).
Finally, I was rather annoyed that she resorts to the tired old rap
that Chandler is little more than recycled Hemingway. While I doubt that
anyone would deny that Hemingway was a gigantic influence on the genre, and
one that continues to be felt, it also should not be overlooked that he was
pretty old news to the reading public by the time that Chandler wrote his
first of the writers from that era demonstrate that any
author who employed gutter vernacular was apt to be compared to Hemingway.
Chandler used dialogue to similar effect to Hemingway - albeit less
adroitly- but the lush descriptions for which Oates at last finds reason to
justly praise in _The Big Sleep_ and others are actually an example of
writing against the Hemingway style.... (incidentally, Hemingway said that
Chandler was the only one of the "hard-boiled crowd" that he could bear to
read. I suspect this was a put-down of Hammett, who he appears to have had a
good deal of competitive feeling for).

At any rate, a very interesting essay. Explained a lot about why I have
never warmed up to Oates's books. Her comments about othr authors, such as
Poe and Melville, strike me as rash as her comments about Chandler. It is
difficult to avoid the suspicion that she brings a bit of a feminist agenda
(of the type that lately bears the "PC label)and that some of her critique
is driven by what she perceives as misogyny and racism in the stories. Small
wonder that she prefers the more "warm and fuzzy" Ross MacDonald.
For myself, I have been hacking through Ellroy's _Silent Terror_ ( mixed
feelings) and McGivern's _Rogue Cop_, whih is not all that prettily written
but which was very hard to put down.

># To unsubscribe, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
># The web pages for the list are at
James Michael Rogers
" I carried it too far, that's for sure" - Jeffrey Dahmer

# To unsubscribe, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
# The web pages for the list are at