Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ray Carver - part 1

I'm calling this part 1 because I know I will want to say quite a lot more on this subject and am running out of time today, but I want to get started. My interest in Carver is indirect and maybe atypical: My friend and poet Jim Sommers (Grants Pass, Oregon) knew Carver and shared a house with him at one point in the 1980's. Sommers is still friends with Tess Gallagher, Carver's widow, so when the collection of Carver's poetry All of Us came out in hard back, I was eager to read and review it. (If I can find a link to that review, I'll add it here). Anyway, I really love Carver's poems much much more than his short stories, which I find depressing, and maybe I have an answer. The short stories I have read are not the full Carver.

This week's New Yorker prints Carver's original version of a short story "Beginners" which Carver's editor Gordon Lish turned into the well known short story "What We Talk about when We Talk about Love." You can see the differences between Carver's original and Lish's revisions in this edited manuscript version. Carver's is fuller, softer.

Says "The Take" (see below):
In Carver's version, the story goes on to describe with some warmth the old man's stories to the doctor about his life with his wife, and explores the man's joy when he's finally well enough to visit her in her hospital room. A nurse previously known as "a tough lot" starts weeping at the sight, and the doctor himself seems profoundly affected by it. It's a touching passage that lends the story as a whole a much more bittersweet flavor, even as we can clearly see what about it felt baggy and sentimental to Lish.
And according to this exchange of letters between Carver and Lish, Carver was beginning to see - and worry about - the extent to which Lish was reshaping Carver's stories into something else - not necessarily something bad or less worthy, but something that Carver felt was not his own.

Now, Tess Gallagher is working to reprint the originals, which some critics, such as "The Take" column in The New York Magazine, are cautiously in favor of, if I read this post ‘The New Yorker’ Publishes Raymond Carver's Original; Is It Better Than Gordon Lish's Edit? correctly. They say:
What's good about this new (old) version? For those of us who find Carver's minimalist despair wearying, his version of the story is much gentler than Lish's scathing edit.
On the other hand, they also say:
What's bad about this new (old) version? Well, we can't say we're particularly heartbroken that Lish edited out this deathless section
(and repeats the long section about the restaurant). As for me, I like detail, digressions, fullness and softness. So I will look for the reprint new/original short stories and see how it goes. Still, I can recommend the poems highly. They are direct, vivid, real.

ps: this version of New Yorker online seems not to have the page of introductory text shown in the paper copy of the magazine before the exchange of letters



Blogger Michael Hemmingson said...

Is there a way I can get a hod of your poet friend who livd with carver...I am writing an interpretive biography of Carver (news releases to go out in Feb. from my agent) as well as a critical book on Gordon Lish that Routledge will publish in 2009.

6:13 AM  

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