There is in the Soul, a Desire for Not Thinking
April 30, 2008 8:20 PM   Subscribe

Being Raymond Carver Often referred to as the American Chekhov, Raymond Carver was a master of the American short story.

His work was repurposed into the Robert Altman film Short Cuts. He was the subject of a fascinating radio documentary (Java warning), and remains a tragic genius with dedicated fans.

The debate over how big a role his editor, Gordon Lish, played in his work continues.

Here's the original draft of one of his most famous stories, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love", and the correspondence that ensued.

A look at the man, and his work.
posted by timsteil (30 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like Carver's work, and he was part of the curriculum for one of the fiction classes I took at Evergreen in 1994. I had the honor of serving cocktails to Tess Gallagher on the veranda at Lake Crescent Lodge the following summer. I told her I had read some of Raymond's work. She was very nice at first and then grew melancholy as the sun set over the lake.
posted by owhydididoit at 8:28 PM on April 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this post. :-)
posted by owhydididoit at 8:29 PM on April 30, 2008


Just how influential was that story? Pretty influential. (Did that cliche really begin with Carver?)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:31 PM on April 30, 2008


I read Carver before Chekhov and loved him. It's hard to describe the feeling I had discovering Carver's bluntly honest snippets of modern life, but it was shocking in a very cool way. Then discovering a few years later that Chekhov had done something similar almost 100 years earlier - wow.

Neat post, thanks.
posted by mediareport at 8:46 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great post. A convenient comparison of "Beginners" and "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" is also linked on those pages.

Did that cliche really begin with Carver?

Looks like it began with Lish!
posted by dougmoon at 8:48 PM on April 30, 2008


I haven't liked a single Carver story I've read. However, he's beloved by people whose aesthetic sense I trust implicitly, for instance Haruki Murakami, who's translated his entire corpus into Japanese. I assume the failure is mine, not Carver's.
posted by Kattullus at 9:11 PM on April 30, 2008


No Kattulllus, you're not alone. While I enjoy Chekhov, I've never warmed up to Carver's work. The one exception is probably his short story "Cathedral."
However, I'm *very* drawn to other "minimalists" such as Amy Hempel or certain works by Joy Williams, Mark Richard -- it's a highly subjective level of appeal, yet I can appreciate Carver at least if he somehow influenced the authors I admire.
posted by skyper at 9:30 PM on April 30, 2008


I can't say how many times I've cried reading 'Cathedral'. maybe i'm just lame. but thanks for the post.
posted by localhuman at 9:35 PM on April 30, 2008


To the title: Yes, there is.

To the (above-the-line) post: Yes, he was.

Thanks for the post and the links.
posted by trip and a half at 9:45 PM on April 30, 2008


If you like "Cathedral" you might be interested in D. H. Lawrence' short story "The Blind Man."

Note: I am not denigrating Carver's story, I just think it's interesting, I don't think there's anything wrong with reworking stories by other authors. If you ever want to hear me rant, mention Kaavya Viswanathan in my presence after I've had a couple of beers. The railroading that poor girl got is absolutely dreadful. Anyway, my point is that I'm a big fan of D. H. Lawrence' short stories.
posted by Kattullus at 9:49 PM on April 30, 2008


I love Carver's work and really appreciate this.

A friend recently found a mint-condition edition of his first book on his bookshelf - he had bought it from the CSUS English Club when it was made, at the same time both of them were lecturers at CSUS. We donated it to a special collection that specializes in Carver for a $7,000 tax writeoff.
posted by luriete at 9:55 PM on April 30, 2008


I'm another who loves Chekhov (and Hempel! and minimalism in general!) but just can't seem to get into Carver.

However, he's beloved by people whose aesthetic sense I trust implicitly, for instance Haruki Murakami, who's translated his entire corpus into Japanese.

And this too.
posted by birdie birdington at 10:08 PM on April 30, 2008



Raymond Carver's writing was still pretty influential when I took my Creative Writing degree (fiction) back in the early 90s. Now hardly any bookstores (at least in Canada) carry his stories anymore, and sometimes I'll encounter a bookseller who's never even heard of Carver (!)

I kind of wonder if you have to be from the West Coast (Oregon, Idaho, Washington, British Columbia, Northern California) to really get his work. I like Denis Johnson (Jesus' Son), too, for mostly the same reason's I like Carver.

Carver's grave is in Port Angeles, Washington, just across Juan de Fuca Strait from Victoria, where I live. I actually visited his grave in 1998. Carver's poem Late Fragment is engraved on the tombstone:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

posted by KokuRyu at 10:19 PM on April 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


skyper--glad to hear someone mention Joy Williams: I've always liked her writing.

I like Carver too, and first read "What We Talk About" probably 20 years ago. However, like Cheever, Carver for me is someone whose work does not age as well as it should. Having said that, I'll try re-reading it again to see.
posted by ornate insect at 12:07 AM on May 1, 2008


I must put myself in the love minimalism/not sure about Carver camp. Maybe it's just that, as KokoRyu said, Carver was huge while I was in college (mid/late 90s) and I read so many wannabe Carvers (the part they were best at was the drinking) that I can't forgive the man. I did pick up When We Talk About Love at the library a few months back, and while I can recognize the talent, I just don't get that blast of pure insight from his work that so many people tell me is there (and these are people I respect, as others have said in the thread).

That being said, I'm going to enjoy looking at the drafting/editing included above. It's probably the most (in)famous editor/writer relationship of the last fifty years.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:33 AM on May 1, 2008


Carver.
posted by chudder at 1:00 AM on May 1, 2008


that blast of pure insight

Huh. That's not what I get from Carver - or Chekhov, for that matter - at all. It's more a quiet creep of impure insight.
posted by mediareport at 5:06 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


I like Carver a lot. My favorite, I think, besides "Cathedral," is "A Small, Good Thing." What an amazing story.
posted by nasreddin at 5:34 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: I'm from Seattle, and think you may be right about being from the northwest to appreciate him on some level. I fell in love with his writing -- his poetry first and then, to a lesser extent, his short stories -- while taking my English degree at UW. I stumbled on him on my own, though. There was hardly a mention of him in my classes which, in retrospect, seems kind of odd.

I made a trip out to his grave in Port Angeles with a friend before moving out to New York City. I remember it being very important to me at the time. It was tied in to saying goodbye to the northwest, I think. And, well, also, there was the girl I took the trip with. We sat next to his grave and had lunch. I still remember it very clearly: sitting on the grass eating a turkey sandwich while the chimes attached to the shrine his wife had erected ding-dinged in the breeze.

Mrs. Papercake was a big fan of Tess Galagher (Carver's wife) when I met her but hadn't read Carver. I'd not read Galagher. We spent a good amount of time reading poetry to one another over the phone.

And this morning my daughter of eleven months started randomly pulling out all my Carver books off my shelves and I thought "I have to go back to him again. It's been a while." This post has me wishing I'd grabbed my copy of All of Us and shoved it in my bag.

Thanks for the post.

/rambling
posted by papercake at 6:18 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


Love minimalism. Love Carver. Great post.
posted by rokusan at 7:31 AM on May 1, 2008


He was a pretty good poet, too.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:35 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Craver was great, and continues to be a big influence on my writing. The Lish editing debacle is great for conversation but if you read the un-edited versions of the stories found in "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" you'll see the undeniable talent was still there before Lish's eraser came along. He's had countless imitators, but no one I've read has bridged love, loss, and control so succinctly as Carver.
posted by tiger yang at 7:51 AM on May 1, 2008


Ha ... I mean 'Carver' *still on 1st cup of coffee*
posted by tiger yang at 7:51 AM on May 1, 2008


Ha ... I mean 'Carver' *still on 1st cup of coffee*

Well, I meant Chekhov, and ensued. May I should *switch* to coffee before hitting that post button
posted by timsteil at 2:29 PM on May 1, 2008


I read a collection of his recently and I have to say, I was underwhelmed.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:57 PM on May 1, 2008


i love the line-by-line comparison. thanks for posting this.
posted by radiofreewalsh at 3:13 PM on May 1, 2008


Love minimalism. Love Carver. Great post.
posted by rokusan at 7:31 AM on May 1 [+] [!]


Swear it took a while, but I just got it.
posted by timsteil at 6:11 PM on May 1, 2008


I like Carver a lot. My favorite, I think, besides "Cathedral," is "A Small, Good Thing." What an amazing story.

I had never read any Raymond Carver until this post. Curious, I found both of the above mentioned stories and read them right away. I read "Cathedral" first, and almost burst into tears near the end. I don't really know why, but I was certainly moved.
I read "A Small, Good Thing" shortly thereafter and was completely devastated. I loved it.
Please, someone, recommend more reading of this style and feel. Thanks for the post!!!
posted by anoirmarie at 6:33 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


anoirmarie, read "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" by Amy Hempel.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:32 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


D. H. Lawrence, anoirmarie, as per my above comment.
posted by Kattullus at 1:27 AM on May 2, 2008


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