Sunday, April 27, 2008

The End of The Long Goodbye

By Barbara D’Amato

This is the last of The Outfit’s postings on Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Our attention to it was inspired by the Chicago Public Library’s choice of the book for their One Book One Chicago program.

After posts on Chandler himself and the book’s content, I thought it would be appropriate to ask, “How does Chandler get his effects?” And to focus this question, we could examine Chandler’s revisions of the very end of the novel, the last couple of sentences of The Long Goodbye. The changes they passed through tell something about Chandler’s thinking and demonstrate his care for his craft.

The late Hugh Holton, a police officer who wrote thrillers centered on the Chicago Police Department, was often asked at lectures how long it took him to write a book. He would say, “Six weeks,” and when the gasping stopped, would add, “And eleven months to rewrite.” Chandler’s rewrites are so meticulous, they remind me that he began his writing career as a poet.

Mark Coggins is the Shamus and Barry-nominated author of The Immortal Game, Vulture Capital and Candy from Strangers, featuring private eye August Riordan. Bleak House Books published his fourth book, Runoff, last November. In addition to writing fiction, he is a Chandler scholar, author of the article, “Writing the Long Goodbye.” In it Coggins says, “I recently had the opportunity to examine some 200 pages of original typescript with excised or rewritten scenes while visiting the special collection of Raymond Chandler papers at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.” What he found gives fascinating insight into how Chandler wrote.

He worked on The Long Goodbye intermittently from 1949 until May of 1952, at which point he turned it in to his agents—finished, he thought. They didn’t like it. They said Marlowe had become too sentimental.

Chandler went back to his typewriter for a couple more months.

He did, in fact, work on a typewriter, but the sheets Coggins saw were not standard typing paper. Chandler used small yellow sheets 5.5 inches wide and 8.5 inches high. Coggins says this was to limit the amount of retyping he had to do if he revised a page. Coggins was not permitted to photocopy the pages, since he could not secure permission from the Chandler estate, but he described the pages and even made mock-ups, which can be viewed in his article.

Chandler apparently rewrote drastically, underlining on a page only the material he wanted to keep, then retyping a largely new take on the scene. Whole scenes were eliminated entirely.

But to get to my example, the book’s closing words:

Coggins compared two versions of The Long Goodbye, June 24, 1953, and July 9, 1953, and the published ending, and found four different versions.

FIRST VERSION -- June 24, 1953:
He turned quickly and walked out. I watched the door close. I listened to his steps going along the hall. They died. Then I just listened.

Slow curtain.

Coggins finds this too abrupt and believes in writing it this way Chandler may have been responding to his agents’ objections to Marlowe having become too soft and sentimental.

He turned away quickly and went out. I watched the door close and listened to his steps going away. After a little while I couldn’t hear them, but I kept on listening.

Don’t ask me why. I couldn’t tell you.

THIRD VERSION – also July 9:
He turned and went out. I watched the door close and listened to his steps going away. Then I couldn’t hear them, but I kept on listening anyway. As if he might come back to talk me out of it. As if I hoped he would.

But he didn’t.

Coggins notes that the second July 9 version was written in pen, which Chandler did not often use. He believes this indicates the difficulty Chandler was having striking the right tone. Coggins says “After rereading this [version three], Chandler must have felt he had overcompensated. The final sentence, ‘But he didn’t’ almost comes across with a catch in the throat.”

He turned and walked across the floor and out. I watched the door close. I listened to his steps going away down the imitation marble corridor. After a while they got faint, then they got silent. I kept on listening anyway. What for? Did I want him to stop suddenly and turn and come back and talk me out of the way I felt? Well, he didn’t. That was the last I saw of him.

I never saw any of them again—except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.

Coggins’s view is that the extra description in the final, published version “slows the narrative and adds weight to what is occurring. It also manages to convey an appropriate depth of feeling at the parting, while at the same time retaining Marlowe’s cynical worldview.”

Okay. What do you think of his choices? I hesitate to admit I prefer the first version. It seems clean and straightforward to me. My feeling at that point in the book would be that if the reader didn’t get it by now, tying a ribbon on it wouldn’t help.

The “don’t ask me why” in the second version has a whiff of begging for sympathy.

To me, he certainly did overcompensate in version three. It’s a bit too self-pitying.

The final version ties it up nicely, but why add the cops? A late attempt to return to the tough-guy persona?

If I’d been writing the book, I would have gone with version one. Probably that shows why I’m not Chandler. But I would be really interested to know what other people think.


Cameron Hughes said...

I liked version 3 best if the "But he didn't" was taken out. There's a lot of power in that paragraph, signifying how personal that case was to him

Jude Hardin said...

I would go with a combination of one and three:

He turned quickly and walked out. I watched the door close. I listened to his steps going along the hall, and then I just listened. As if he might come back to talk me out of it. As if I hoped he would.

Chris Routledge said...

I'm afraid I'm going to go for the as-published version simply because it avoids closure more effectively. The added and apparently unnecessary mention of 'imitation marble' puts Lennox, who by this time is going by an assumed identity in a context of fakery and illusion appropriate to his new life. This is a thread that runs through the book and it reverberates in a satisfying way here. The mention of the cops may well be a return to the tough persona, but it also leaves the book open-ended by hinting at nothing having been solved and nothing fixed. I find this ending far more interesting than the earlier revisions anyway.

Maryann said...

I like the idea of combining one and three as well. Throughout the bopok, I had the feeling that this case became personal for Marlowe, so those last six words fit my idea of his frame of mind, a combination of curiosity and finality.

John Gooley said...

I definitely prefer version 1. It's cold and clinical and makes you think. It's ambiguous. The other versions seem to me to be excellent examples of the dangers of too much rewriting, of trying to force the meaning down the reader's throat.

Sara Paretsky said...

barb, what a good and thought-provoking post. I'm with you--I like version one. As a rewrite obsessive myself, I know how easy it is to overwrite the third time around, and then to lose track of w hat really is working for you.

Dana King said...

Great, thought-provoking post.

I like the published version. It does slow the pace without being obvious. The mention of the imitation marble not only allows the reader to hear Lennox's footfalls (with a cartain echoing lonliness), but emphasizes Marlowe's situation, as a private cop who really is small time, no matter how high in the social strata his cases reach.

As for the cops line, cases come and go, as do attachments for Marlowe. The cops are always there. Just one final, world-weary comment from a detective who is gradually being worn down by it all.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fiction writer so perhaps I have no business criticizing Chandler. (Actiually I spent 15 years trying to write fiction without success; I finally gave it all up in my freshman year of college.) As a writer of non-fiction, my criticism of version 4 is a matter of relevance, not style. I don't recall anything in the book that suggests it's hard to say good-bye to cops. The idea seems to be introduced at the very end like something the cat dragged in. Moreover it's positively distracting. I should have thought that the title "The Long Goodbye"
is gangsterese for death, just like the title "The Big Sleep." The end of the book should not have been used to bring up a meaning of "goodbye" that detracts from the title.

Mark Coggins said...


Thanks very much for referencing the article--you did a great job with it!

One thing I didn't like about all the other versions except the published one was that they sounded too choppy to my ear.

But, if I had to pick another, I would also go with number one.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Thank you all for writing. I am just [May 3] back from Malice Domestic, the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont PA, and the Edgars, and I want to take a closer look a what everyone had to say.

Fargo said...

I like version 1 the best - simple and effective. The others are overkill.

vicky said...

*sigh* way too late to this post, but for what it's worth, I like version one too. Maybe it's just changing tastes, but the published version seems a little too florid.