Thursday, August 23, 2012

THE SELECTED LETTERS OF RAYMOND CHANDLER, Edited by Frank MacShane (1981) Columbia University Press, 483 pages

Reading these Chandler letters has been one of the great delights of my Lit Nerd life. His correspondence is candid, revealing, witty and beautiful in equal measure. Even as he was writing them, he was aware that that particular insomniac's coping strategy--carrying on a conversation in his head with the "other"--was already outdated, replaced then by the telephone. Albeit, for him, those missives were essential.

The correspondence ranges between 1937 and the year of his death 1959 and he writes to friends, agents, editors, fellow novelists, publishers and Hollywood moguls with passion and aplomb. Because I am teaching his noir masterpiece THE LONG GOODBYE this semester, I was especially interested in the letters referring to its evolution and Chandler's writing process. How he struggled with that book. Rewrote and rewrote until he got it right. And, boy, did he get it right.

What moved me most was his gorgeous affection for his wife Cissy Pascal and how devastated he was by her death:

"She was the beat of my heart for thirty years. She was the music heard faintly at the edge of sound. It was my great and now useless regret that I never wrote anything worth her attention, no book that I could dedicate to her. I planned it. I thought of it, but I never wrote it....Saying goodbye to your loved one in your mind is not the same thing as closing her eyes and knowing they will never open again....For thirty years, ten months and four days, she was the light of my life, my whole ambition. Anything else I did was just the fire for her to warm her hands at....All us tough guys are sentimentalists at heart."

To have lived a love like theirs must have been something.

When I turned the final page in the collection I found myself wishing I'd been lucky enough to have known Chandler and to have been engaged in an ongoing, stimulating, life-affirming correspondence with him. He was a generous spirit.

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