What we talk about when we talk about Carver
In Books this weekend, David L. Ulin looks at the new 1,020-page Library of America Raymond Carver book, "Collected Stories." The uneasy creative relationship between Carver, who died in 1988, and his longtime editor Gordon Lish came to light in a December 2007 New Yorker article. How much of Carver's "minimalist" style was a byproduct of Lish's editing? In some cases, much was cut from his original drafts; as much as 78%. In this collection, then, an original, unedited version of a story casts Carver's work in a different light.
In 1983, Granta famously labeled him, along with contemporaries such as Ford and Wolff, "dirty realists"; six years later, Tom Wolfe derided them as "K-Mart realists" in Harper's. The idea is that there's something less than artful about their fiction, that their stories are unformed, anecdotal slices-of-life. But that's not true, any more than it's true that in editing "What We Talk About," Lish eclipsed its authenticity, effacing Carver's voice while recasting the book, somehow, as his own.
Taken as a whole, Ulin says, "Collected Stories" implies that Carver's various creative influences were stops on a long path. Consider this edit by Lish of Carver's "Beginners" (published as "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"), which turns a bit of banter into a more ominous anecdote. From the New Yorker:
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Andy Lyons / Allsport