detective work

by rantywoman

Twenty years have taught me that there are no “surefire” rules when it comes to getting married and having kids. None. Women who remained virgins until marriage, women who waited passively for men to find them, women who were aggressive in seeking men and proposing marriage, women who were drug addicts, women who never wore make-up or fixed their hair or wore fashionable clothing, women who were nerds, women who were extremely promiscuous, women who never made a cent, women with demanding careers… all married with kids.

One thing that does seem to hold true, however, is that “water seeks its own level.” And if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that when women who seem ill-equipped for a healthy relationship have gotten married, the relationship is usually not a healthy one.

When I found out recently about another marriage that seemed too good to be true– that upended everything I believed about the universe– I practically started overturning furniture. Why the extreme reaction? I think a combination of a lot of things: the unfairness of our economy, the way I feel taken advantage of in situations surrounding my job, the ways in which societal rewards seem to be particularly ill-gotten these days.

So I did a little snooping, and my faith in my worldview was restored. Things were not, as it turns out, as they seemed.

It all reminds me of that great film, The Big Lebowski:

The Coens maintain a surprising fidelity to Chandler’s critique of wealth in their depiction of the Lebowski family, restoring the moral condemnation that Hawks excised in his depiction of the Sternwoods. Carmen/Bunny is no longer a lone aberration, as the Lebowskis are rotten to the core. The Big Lebowski, in particular, is no kindly, ailing patriarch who inspires loyalty in his Marlowe–instead he berates and abuses the Dude until the Dude makes a key discovery about Lebowski’s fortunes, leading to his only true deduction of the entire movie.

The Big Lebowski, it develops, isn’t even all that big. Maude tells the Dude that her father doesn’t actually have any money; for all of his talk about “achievement” and the importance of a job, he lives on an allowance from his late first wife’s estate. This triggers the Dude’s realization that Lebowski never attempted to ransom Bunny from her supposed kidnappers, but instead used the kidnapping to disguise his embezzlement of a million dollars from his first wife’s charitable foundation. Here the Coens’ film aligns with Sean McCann’s reading of Chandler: the Big Lebowski is if anything more predatory than General Sternwood, his wealth even more illusory. Sternwood at least once had the material wealth of his oil wells before they ran dry; Lebowski is living on the dole while posing as a successful businessman and philanthropist. The film, like Chandler’s novel, “does not have an economy so much as a closed system of blackmail” (McCann 167) with all the characters scheming to grab the same million dollars, most of them ignorant of its true origins. Or, as Harry Jones says in The Big Sleep, “We’re all grifters. So we sell each other out for a nickel” (168). The Big Lebowski is the ultimate grifter in the Coens’ world, his charade of honest entrepreneurship masking a parasitic heart.