by Tom Hiney ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 1, 1997
A disappointing new biography of the nonpareil hardboiled writer. Alcoholic, fastidious, prickly, chivalrous, classically educated, Chandler was a bundle of contradictions. A legendary misogynist in fiction, he was devoted for most of his life to a much older wife. When she died, he obsessively sought solace in drink and the company of other women. He was also, on Hiney's showing, a man with a rare inaptness for comfort or self-satisfaction, a writer who found work painfully difficult yet became unmoored away from his desk, whose success as a screenwriter never mitigated his contempt for Hollywood, and a man to whom both reclusiveness (he wrote the first four Philip Marlowe novels in isolation from anyone but his beloved wife, Cissy) and socialization (his final year was punctuated by so many marriage proposals that two of his aspiring fiancÃ¢es ended up in court over his will) were equally necessary and equally impossible. Readers who know Frank MacShane's 1976 biography of Chandler will be familiar with these matters. What London journalist Hiney adds is a new look at the Chandler archives and new interviews with the friends of his declining years; what's missing is any forceful new assessment of Chandler's personality and achievement as a writer. Hiney's inexperience as a biographer shows in his lack of confidence in his generalizations about Chandler's alcoholism, his early critical reception (though Chandler scorned highbrow intellectuals, they were faster to appreciate his work than mainstream reviewers), and his still-debated status in American letters. On Chandler's troubled personal life, Hiney admits that ""Cissy remains almost as much of an enigma now"" as when she and Chandler married, and ventures the conclusion, on slender grounds, that ""Chandler was, I am sure, a good man and an honest one."" Hiney ends up nibbling around the edges of Chandler's life and work, as if he'd bitten off more than he could chew.
Pub Date: May 1, 1997
Page Count: 320
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997
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