By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
It is easy to see how Hernandez’s process fed into Freeman’s approach to the Chandler book, which begins in the couple’s own apartment and proceeds on a tour through each of Chandler’s addresses, with biographical details, literary analysis and personal speculation woven in. The apartment happens to be located only a few blocks from Chandler’s first address on Bonnie Brae — map it on Google and the line between the two is just a short zigzag around the northeast corner of MacArthur Park — which was clearly part of the draw. “Every day, I would be moving past streets where he lived,” she says. “And so I felt like, you know, this is my landscape. I could start where he started, and then I could radiate out and look at the city the way that he did.
“I really didn’t think in the beginning, oh, this is going to be like detective work,” she says, “but about halfway through the book, I realized it was replicating that activity. In all of Chandler’s books, Marlowe’s always driving everywhere — Marlowe never walks anywhere. Chandler loved to drive, he loved cars. So on several levels, it seemed to me there was this mirroring thing going on, where I was following in Chandler’s footsteps, I was trying to decode the city, I was looking at how the city figured into his fiction and how his life figured into his fiction.”
Certain remnants of the author’s world remain — at one address, Freeman discovered a mailbox labeled “Chandler,” presumably written in the author’s own hand — but just as many have been swept away,
replaced by strip malls and newer apartment buildings.
“There were moments of real excitement,” she says, when I ask about her reaction to these discoveries, “where I could just feel Chandler’s life in a particular place, and there were moments — not so much of disappointment as resignation. This is what L.A. is: It’s constantly erasing itself, it’s constantly transforming itself, and so much gets lost. I think that there’s almost a higher quotient of nostalgia in this city than in cities like Boston, where you think there would be more, because there’s so much past. But I think here, people really get nostalgic because it’s so fragile, that sense of connection to history.”
Hernandez himself is something of an anomaly in this regard, and a striking contrast to the virtually nomadic Chandlers: Not only does he live within five miles of the neighborhood where he grew up, in what was then the Aliso Village housing project, but he’s been in the Carondelet Street apartment for an astonishing 37 years. Freeman, who moved in when they married in 1986, came from Utah and Idaho (where they now spend part of every year) in search of “the place where I might become a writer,” she says. When I ask about her first impressions of the city, Hernandez laughs. “She didn’t like L.A.,” he says.
She shakes her head. “I didn’t like it. I thought it was big and loud and dirty and noisy and confusing.”
“Very hard-edged,” she agrees, “and very, very hard to figure out what the attractions were. I couldn’t understand why people lived here. I mean, if you were born here and trapped and couldn’t get away, that was one thing, but why would you come here? It just seemed unfathomable to me.”
Clearly, she came around.
“I think it’s a city that reveals itself,” she says, “and charms and seduces you only if you’re willing to suspend your idea of what a city should be. If you can do that, and accept the anomalous idea of L.A., then it’s so exciting, and it’s so interesting, and there’s so much going on. But it takes a while. And when I meet people who’ve just moved here and I say, How do you like it? And they say, I don’t get it, I don’t know if I’m going to make it, I don’t know — I don’t like it. I want to say: Just give it time, you know, because it will reveal itself.”
THE LONG EMBRACE: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved | By JUDITH FREEMAN | Pantheon Books | 368 pages | $25.95 hardcover
WAITING, SITTING, FISHING AND SOME AUTOMOBILES | By ANTHONY HERNANDEZ | Loosestrife Editions | 264 pages | $125 hardcover