By Margaret Atwood
I have no business reprinting this, but “In Love with Raymond Chandler,” Canadian author/poet/lforce of nature Margaret Atwood’s peculiar valentine to Raymond Chandler (furniture?) is just too good to let slip by. It was originally collected in Good Bones (1992), an eclectic grab bag of her parables, monologues, snippets, prose poems, reconfigured fairy tales, recipes and other literary scraps, illustrated by Atwood herself. But I stumbled across it much more recently on poeticous.com, where you can also watch a video of it being read by Tom O’Bedlam.
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. I think of his sofas, stuffed to roundness, satin-covered, pale blue like the eyes of his cold blond unbodied murderous women, beating very slowly, like the hearts of hibernating crocodiles; of his chaises longues, with their malicious pillows. He knew about front lawns too, and greenhouses, and the interiors of cars.
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 other’s arms, and onto the bed (king-size? peach-colored? creaky? narrow? four-posted? pioneer-quilted? lime-green chenille-covered?), ready at last to do the same things to each other.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, Ontario. She earned a B.A. from Victoria College, University of Toronto, and an M.A. from Harvard. I studied her poetry (and her thoughts on CanLit) in Mrs. Ticehurst’s North American Literature class, possibly the greatest high school class ever, and have been a fan ever since. Indeed, one of the purest moments of being starstruck in my entire life was when, at a Bouchercon in Toronto years later, mystery writer Alison Gordon introduced me to her. Atwood had just won the Dashiell Hammett Prize for her 2000 crime novel The Blind Assassin. I smiled, managed to mumble some shy congratulations and shook her hand. Hopefully she won’t sue my ass off for running this…