Sunday, June 14, 2009

Random Readings, Vol. 7

This installment of Random Readings is from Cornell Woolrich's beautifully written - if highly fictionalized - unfinished autobiography BLUES OF A LIFETIME, the existing chapters of which were assembled and edited by Mark T. Bassett for a 1991 Bowling Green State University Popular Press edition. In this excerpt from the first chapter, titled "Remington Portable NC69411" (after one of Woolrich's early typewriters), an aged, infirm and deeply depressed Woolrich, sensing he hadn't long to live looks back nostalgically - and painfully - on his days as a young writer. "It makes me blue to look back at the past," he writes. "But I want to look back 1ce more, before it's gone forever." He recalls long happy nights on the second floor of a Manhattan brownstone shared with his mother, grandfather and aunts, crafting his first novel, 1926's COVER CHARGE, in a white-hot rush, reveling in the fierce joy of his art and talent:

"It had become such a fixed habit by now, such a part of my daily routine, I was so hooked on it, that I couldn't have given it up for love nor money. So every evening after my meal was over I'd sit there, anywhere from nine to eleven-thirty or twelve, in the room on the second floor that had the grand piano in it, with the white cicatrices on its lid where spilled gin from my pocket flask had eaten into the ebony patina, the door closed, the family out or inaudible, a single lamp lit behind me on a pedestal in the corner ... bending over my knee, scribbling away ... . Every now and again I'd take a breather, lean back to rest my back and ease my neck, and put out even the one light, to facilitate the gathering of new thoughts for the pencil bout to come.

"I never forgot those chiaroscuro seances in that second-floor room. Lights up, writing; lights out, getting ready to write some more; lights up, at it again. I like that kid, as I look back at him; it's almost impossible not to like all young things anyway, pups and colts and cubs of all breeds. But I feel dreadfully sorry for him, and above all, I wish and pray, how I wish and how I pray, that he had not been I. He might have had a better destiny, if he hadn't been, he might at least have had a chance to find his happiness."

ABOVE: Artist Larry Schwinger's evocative cover for the 1982 Ballantine paperback edition of Woolrich's 1941 novel THE BLACK CURTAIN.

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