Literary Daybook, March 26

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.


the Salon Books Editors
March 27, 2002 1:00AM (UTC)

Today in fiction

On March 26, 1997, the glimmering begins.
-- "Glimmering" (1997)
by Elizabeth Hand

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to fictiondays@yahoo.com.

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1959, Raymond Chandler died, at the age of 69. Chandler didn't start writing until he was 45, and didn't publish his first hit, "The Big Sleep," until he was in his early 50s, but he claimed that his stories "just happen -- like red hair." He won two Oscars for his screenplays, and international fame for his brooding, tough-guy hero, Philip Marlowe, a type with whom he enjoyed being confused:

"Yes, I am exactly like the characters in my books ... I do a great deal of research, especially in the apartments of tall blondes. I am 38 years old and have been for the last 20 years. I do not regard myself as a dead shot, but I am a pretty dangerous man with a wet towel. But all in all I think my favorite weapon is a twenty dollar bill."

As for being hard-boiled, here is Chandler on Mrs. Chandler, shortly after her death:

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"For 30 years, ten months and four days, [my wife] was the light of my life, my whole ambition. Anything I did was just the fire for her to warm her hands at. That is all there is to say. She was the music heard faintly on the edge of sound."

She was 18 years older than he was, and she died in 1954, after a long illness. Chandler had just finished "The Long Goodbye," thought by many to be his best book; certainly it was heartfelt: "I have said goodbye to my Cissy in the middle of the night in the dark cold hours many, many times." Chandler's last years were spent more or less in breakdown, the drunken suicide attempts of the months after Cissy's funeral turning to five, eventually fatal, years of alcoholism. In the end he was having desperate, uninterested affairs and drinking gimlets again, now all too much like Marlowe: "Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl's clothes off."

-- Steve King

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To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.


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