Thursday, October 18, 2007

“I would rather dig my friend Ray Carver out of the ground.”

The Real Carver: Expansive or Minimal - New York Times:

"Tess Gallagher, the widow of Raymond Carver, one of the most celebrated American short-story writers of the 20th century, is spearheading an effort to publish a volume of 17 original Carver stories whose highly edited versions were published in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” his breakout 1981 book."

Again, we're looking at the role Gordon Lish played in the work in Raymond Carver and what Carver himself would have wanted. There's little doubt that Lish had a signifcant role in the so-called minimalism of Carver. One need only reference the other writers he edited to see the similarities. But does this mean that the Carver we know and love is not the "real" Carver. No. The core is Carver. The story is Carver. Even if the sentence level edits by Lish were significant. I've seen a copy somewhere of a manuscript page with Lish's edits all over it, and if I were the writer I'd be a little depressed about the changes.

As the article reveals, and we are reminded, Carver was far from pleased and tried to get definative versions of some of his stories released.

Carver’s later editor, Gary Fisketjon of Knopf, which holds the copyright to “What We Talk About,” is deeply opposed to the idea.

“I would rather dig my friend Ray Carver out of the ground,” he said. “I don’t understand what Tess’s interest in doing this is except to rewrite history. I am appalled by it.”

Carver, who died in 1988 at 50, had tried to set the record straight himself. He restored and republished five of the stories from “What We Talk About” in magazines or later collections. In “Where I’m Calling From,” a volume of new and selected stories that Mr. Fisketjon helped edit and that was published the year Carver died, three of the stories that had appeared in “What We Talk About” — “So Much Water So Close to Home,” “The Bath” (retitled “A Small, Good Thing”) and “Distance” — appeared in restored form. But Carver also included four other stories from “What We Talk About” in the versions edited by Mr. Lish.


As far as a new collection of earlier drafts, I'm all for it. Why not release different versions? How different is it from the idea of publishing Kerouac's original scroll version of On The Road? I would buy it, even though I own the originals. Frankly, I'm surprised Knopf wouldn't publish it, at least so that they would have some control over it. Putting it out by another publisher guarantees that it competes with Knopf's editions.

The whole Lish issue takes some fun out of reading Carver, but they are still brilliant stories.

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