Saturday, October 20, 2007

Carving up Carver

Its interesting to hear that Tess Gallagher is to bring out a new version of Raymond Carver's famous, "What we talk about when we talk about love." This version will restore the cuts that his editor, Gordon Lish made. Critics seem to be of the opinion that the new book will do Carver a disservice - after all, it is far his clipped prose that he is most famous. I'd forgot that the book came out as late as 1981, since in my head his stories are so associated with the early seventies, working class America before and after the oil crisis. I like his work, but don't pretend to be have read all of it, and, it would be fair to say that I find some of the stories a little dated - in that they are so rooted in their blue collar past that is so different than the world we've grown up in. I imagine, Reaganomics in America was equally as devastating to that world as Thatcherism was in the UK, perhaps more so, in that we'd never had an American Dream to live up to - had "never had it good" really. So, given the more lyrical concerns of his later stories, I think we should welcome these new versions of Carver classics, stereo mixes to the beloved mono perhaps. It may well be, that the parochialism I sometimes find in a Carver story is less so in the new versions. Whichever, it will be a useful opportunity to re-read, contrast and compare.


Charles Carver said...

In terms of style, Carver's career has been described as being like an hourglass, with 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love' the narrow bit in the middle. There are a number of quite lengthy stories in the first two collections, 'Furious Seasons' and, 'Will You Please Be Quiet Please', as well as in the books that came after 'What We Talk about...', 'Cathedral' and 'Elephant'. So 'What We talk About...' has always been the exception really, leading to the misconception in some minds that Carver was a minimalist. Yet it was the collection that made his name, so we should thank Lish for that. Tess Gallagher was a great help and inspiration to Carver, particularly in the development of his poetry, and I'd trust her in this. 'What We Talk About' was edited in such a way as to enable Carver to afford to buy and then have his cake, perhaps his widow is now enabling him to eat the last of it. I'm sure the man himself would simply refer to it as 'Gravy'.

Adrian Slatcher said...

Thanks for the more authoritative view. I'd not heard that "hourglass" analogy - but I like it. Literary careers are too often reduced to their commercial highs or a single book - whereas, like a musician or an artist, its sometimes as interesting how they got there, and where they were going.