The Carver Chronicles
The Library of America last fortnight revived interest in the Carver story by excavating some of his unpublished stories and publishing one of them...
The Library of America last fortnight revived interest in the Carver story by excavating some of his unpublished stories and publishing one of them “Kindling” as the story of the week
In the twenty-fifth year of his death, the story of Raymond Carver, (1938-88) who imparted a new personality to the American short story in the 1970s and 80s, needs to be retold. This discovery raked an old controversy surrounding Carver’s works. It is about Tess Gallagher, widow of Carver and a poet in her own right, deciding to publish original versions of the 17 stories that made up Carver’s story collection, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” She thought that that collection was a truncated representation of her husband’s stories as they emerged from the editing sieve of Gordon Lish, editor at Alfred Knopf at that time.
Tess persuaded the Library of America to undertake the restoration work. LOA published in 2009 Raymond Carver: The Collected Stories containing the manuscript versions of Carver's stories titled Beginners together with the pared to the marrow versions of Lish as "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." Lish had condensed them to 4,800 words, or about half as long as Carver's. LOA editors William A. Stull and Maureen P. Carroll found the manuscript in the Lilly Library of Indiana University. They transcribed Carver’s typewritten words that lay beneath Lish’s alterations in ink on the typescripts.
One of the most widely read and written about writers on both sides of the Atlantic and a major force in the rejuvenation of the short story. Carver drew a lot of attention to his unique style. He did away with adjectival and adverbial props to achieve depth. Carver polished his stories tirelessly to achieve parsimony of words, and came to be known as a minimalist. He never liked the label because it ‘smacks’ of smallness of vision and execution. Later he changed his style. He said, “My style is fuller, more generous (now). In my latest book, Cathedral, the stories have more range. They're fuller, stronger, more developed, and more hopeful.”
The Carver story always provided glimpses of the phenomenal world. Thomas R Edwards describes his fictional world as “a place where "people worry about whether their old cars will start, where unemployment or personal bankruptcy are present dangers, where a good time consists of smoking pot with the neighbors, with a waitresses, mechanics, postmen, high school teachers, factory workers, door-to-door salesmen. [Their surroundings are] not for them a still unspoiled scenic wonderland, but a place where making a living is as hard, and the texture of life as drab, for those without money, as anywhere else." As Bruce Weber says in a New York Times Magazine profile “Carver's own life paralleled that of one of his characters.” He created characters that thought and lived like him. He was also familiar with the places he mentions in his stories.
Poet and short-story writer who chronicled the lives of America's working poor, Carver was born in an Oregon logging town, Carver married and became a father of two before he was twenty years old. Also like his characters, Carver worked at a series of crap jobs as he called them: “He picked tulips, pumped gas, swept hospital corridors, swabbed toilets, [and] managed an apartment complex." Carver taught creative writing in California and produced two books of poetry before his first book of short stories “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” was published in 1976.
One can gleam from the way he wrote with poignancy and humour the grinding poverty of the working class. Award-winning fiction writer and memoirist Tobias Wolff wrote: “Whatever was human interested him, most of all our struggle to survive without becoming less than human. This struggle shaped his life. His understanding of it, compassionate and profound, made him the great writer that he was, and the great friend.”
Amid the pressures of poverty and parenting, Carver wrote stories. “Furious Seasons,” the second story he ever published, was short-listed by Martha Foley in Best American Short Stories, 1964. For ten years, his work appeared in literary quarterlies until 1971, when fiction editor of Esquire Gordon Lish published “Neighbors” His stories appeared in important anthologies. His work has been translated into twenty-two languages. Haruki Murakami, who translated a multivolume edition of Carver’s works into Japanese, has said, “Reading Carver turns readers into writers. His stories are, in effect, our own.”
After the crap jobs, Carver became editor at Science Research Associates, Inc., Palo Alto, CA, 1967-70; he taught creative writing and fiction writing at the universities of California, Syracuse, Iowa and Texas; professor of English at Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, 1980-83; visiting professor of English, Writers Workshop, University of Iowa, 1973-74; member of faculty writing program, Goddard College, 1977-78; visiting distinguished writer, University of Texas at El Paso, 1978-79. Always a heavy smoker, Carver died of the disease on August 2, 1988. Peter Swanson wrote in The Atlantic, “Raymond Carver's reputation as an American master of short fiction is as good as etched in stone.”
His first collection of short stories, Put Yourself In My Shoes was published in 1974, followed by Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? in 1976. In June 2, 1977, Carver managed to quit drinking. This new stage of sobriety, together with meeting his second wife, Tess Gallagher, is often marked as the turning point for his "second life." His next collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, was published in 1981. His stories in Cathedral that came in 1982 show a change in Carver's style. Raymond Carver published five collections of short stories, two chapbooks, and three volumes of poetry.
A carver appraisal is incomplete without a reference to Gordon Lish who launched him, John Cheever as talented a story teller as Carver was and poet Tess Gallagher who was his adoring companion for nine years and wife a few months before his death. Space permitting, some other time about them.
(The writer is a senior Indian journalist who now lives in the US [email protected])