Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Raymond Carver... or Not Really?

Steve Yarbrough sent me the link to a New York Times article on the debate about publishing the late Raymond Carver's stories in their "original" versions. In particular, his former wife, Tess Gallagher, wants to publish the original version of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - which Carver intended to call Beginners. I found it a fascinating article, filled with questions to ponder about what authorship is.

If you don't know Raymond Carver, suffice it to say that he's a major literary figure, especially in "literary" writing circles and among academics. He was famous for a "minimalist" style of short story writing. His stories were really pared down, slim. They managed to convey a lot without needing a lot of words to do so. Instead, the pauses and omissions and the clear simplicity of his language encouraged a reader to read more into them. He sort of spoke volumes without speaking volumes, if you know what I mean. He's been a major influence on writing students, and his work remains very useful to teach from.

So that's what his fame resides on. Apparently, though, he didn't much like minimalism and didn't love it that he was its poster child. His editor did some major work on the stories, cutting them down so much that Carver himself admitted that people who had read them before wouldn't recognize them as the same stories now. He even tried to stop the publication!

Yikes, so what that means is that the volume that most made him famous and that established him as a writer within a movement wasn't a book he wanted published and wasn't a movement he really embodied. How very strange...

Check out the full article here.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous jeff hotchkiss said...

Thanks for posting that. I'm a big Raymond Carver fan (or am I?). Look forward to reading that article. Sounds very interesting.

1:57 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi Jeff,

And thanks for responding. I think this is a really interesting question. It's not a matter of someone resurrecting early versions of his work to embarrass him. It's not a matter of an author being annoyed that people like a book he thinks isn't as good as other stuff he wrote (as Anthony Burgess felt about A Clockwork Orange)...

This is about guy who feels he didn't write (in a true sense of authorship) the stories that made him famous. He wanted to say, "No, those aren't really mine. Read this version instead. This is what I really wanted to publish." I fear, though, that when people do read his originals they'll not like them as much. Will that matter? I'm not sure. And shouldn't the writer get to decide what his work really is? Well, sure...

I just find it an interesting situation.

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Ed Robertson said...

That is nuts. When you think of great fiction writers, you don't really think of them in collaborative terms. You normally think of one person with a really distinct vision who expresses that so forcefully there's no way to mistake them for anyone else.

I'm a big fan of Carver's stuff, too, but I'd love to read both versions of his stories side by side and see what they're doing differently.

8:03 PM  
Anonymous jeff hotchkiss said...

I think the key factor is that HE wanted to publish the stories that he wrote without Lish's interference. He did. This is not Tess trying to get the stories published for the hell of it or to make a buck. He didn't want the book released at all. His first big break and he didn't want it to come out. And when he restored the stories in later publications, he set the foundation for what Tess is trying to continue in book form. Had he not died, the stories would have been restored in some form or another.

There is little doubt in my mind that the stories are good. And I don't think Carver's legacy will be marred by this either way it goes. But I really don't understand Knopf's motivation behind suppressing the new edition. I think it would sell well and, more importantly, bring more attention to Carver and his work.

11:09 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi Jeff,

Put that way, the whole thing seems pretty sensible. Publish it. Let's take a look. Sell some books in the process. Interesting to consider using two different versions of a story as a teaching tool. Here's the long version... Here's the minimalist version... How do they work or not? Which works more effectively? I know that's already possible since some of the stories have already been published, but this full collection could be quite an interesting event.

At the end of it all, if there's money to be made - and there is - I bet we'll see this collection published eventually.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Carver's original. I feel that his editor was striving for an aesthetic that wasn't Carver's. Carver had a sensibility to his characters that with or without the edits, will always be there. No one should fear the original Carver. Screw academia's grammar school dictatorship, let the original Carver stand.

8:59 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Well, cool. Good hear you like RC's work as he intended. I guess when it comes down to it I'm pretty interested in reading Carver's versions of his stories. Before I do I can't really say what's what with them. I'm interested, though. Very interested... This is a story that, potentially, has a lot of thought-provoking ramifications for the editorial process, the literary establishment, authorial integrity... I look forward to seeing how it plays out.

10:05 PM  

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