In its end of year issue The New Yorker is featuring an excellent article about Raymond Carver and his editor Gordon Lish, whose cutting both helped define Carver’s aesthetic but also shocked and at times upset the writer. The New Yorker article references this 1998 New York Times piece by D.T. Max which also explores the relationship between them. There has been quite a bit of talk about the piece, and about the ‘original’ pre-Lish version of the story ‘Beginners’ published alongside. Perhaps the most quirky recent commentary on Carver is probably this blog post arguing Carver’s place as a ‘noir’ writer (via The Rap Sheet). Steve Allan’s post is well thought out but the question of whether or not a writer does or does not fit in a particular generic niche is one that troubles me. It seems more useful for librarians looking for the right space on the shelf than it is for readers. NewYorker.com has comparative versions of the story ‘Beginners’ in the Lish-edited version and the Carver ‘original’ so readers can choose for themselves. Noir or not, for me Carver’s prose (filtered by Lish) is often close to perfect:
Terri said the man she lived with before she lived with Mel Herb loved her so much he tried to kill her. Herb laughed after she said this. He made a face. Terri looked at him. Then Terri she said, “He beat me up one night, the last night we lived together. He dragged me around the living room by my ankles. He kept saying, , all the while saying, ‘I love you, don’t you see? I love you, you bitch.’ He went on dragging me around the living room. My , my head kept knocking on things.” TerriShe looked around the table at us and then looked at her hands on her glass. “What do you do with love like that?” she said. ¶ She was a bone-thin woman with a pretty face, dark eyes, and brown hair that hung down her back. She liked necklaces made of turquoise, and long pendant earrings. She was fifteen years younger than Herb, had suffered periods of anorexia, and during the late sixties, before she’d gone to nursing school, had been a dropout, a “street person” as she put it. Herb sometimes called her, affectionately, his hippie.
The Carver archive at the New York Times.