Raymond Chandler was born on this day in 1888. Among the many tributes to the master of L.A. hard-boiled style is Margaret Atwood’s rapturous confession of what it means to be “In Love with Raymond Chandler”:
An affair with Raymond Chandler, what a joy! Not because of the mangled bodies and the marinated cops and hints of eccentric sex, but because of his interest in furniture. He knew that furniture could breathe, could feel, not as we do but in a way more muffled, like the word upholstery, with its overtones of mustiness and dust, its bouquet of sunlight on aging cloth or of scuffed leather on the backs and seats of sleazy office chairs.… This is how our love affair would go. We would meet at a hotel, or a motel, whether expensive or cheap it wouldn’t matter. We would enter the room, lock the door, and begin to explore the furniture, fingering the curtains, running our hands along the spurious gilt frames of the pictures, over the real marble or the chipped enamel of the luxurious or tacky washroom sink, inhaling the odor of the carpets, old cigarette smoke and spilled gin and fast meaningless sex or else the rich abstract scent of the oval transparent soaps imported from England, it wouldn’t matter to us; what would matter would be our response to the furniture, and the furniture’s response to us. Only after we had sniffed, fingered, rubbed, rolled on, and absorbed the furniture of the room would we fall into each others’ arms, and onto the bed (king-size? peach-colored? creaky? narrow? four-postered? pioneer-quilted? lime-green-chenille-covered?), ready at last to do the same things to each other.
Philip Marlowe’s fetish about upholstery probably came from not having any. Below, from Farewell, My Lovely, a stylish twenty-something in a big hat (“a crown the size of a whiskey glass and a brim you could have wrapped the week’s laundry in”) and a nice face (“Pretty, but not so pretty that you would have to wear brass knuckles every time you took it out”) comes to blow smoke in his office:
She passed in front of me with a vague scent of very dry sandalwood and stood looking at the five green filing cases, the shabby rust-red rug, the half-dusted furniture, and the not too clean net curtains.
“I should think you would want somebody to answer the phone,” she said. “And once in a while to send your curtains to the cleaners.”
“I’ll send them out come St. Swithin’s Day. Have a chair. I might miss a few unimportant jobs. And a lot of leg art. I save money.”
“I see,” she said demurely, and placed a large suede bag carefully on the corner of the glass-topped desk. She leaned back and took one of my cigarettes. I burned my finger with a paper match lighting it for her.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.