Raymond Carver

20 01 2008

As with most of my reading I’m catching up on issues of The New Yorker. In the Christmas/New Year’s issue (aka the Winter Fiction Issue) there is an interesting collection of pieces about the short fiction author Raymond Carver.

I read some of his work in the short fiction classes I took as an undergraduate. Bob Olmstead (the Writer in Residence at the time) told us a few stories about his first classes with Carver at Syracuse University. The encouragement to keep writing, but never really seeing him that semester. Those stories along with his writing stick with me now, nearly 15 years later.

The New Yorker articles discuss the role of Carver’s editor Gordon Lish in helping him craft his stories and collections, cutting down nearly 40% in some cases. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the workings of how fiction ends up on your plate so to speak. Even better, they include a number of letter from Carver discussing the edits. What comes out of it gives the reader a glimpse of who the author was and the discipline he poured into his work. Writing, writing, writing until every bit of him was tied into it.

Read the full article here
Read the letters here

Most interesting read the story Beginners here. What’s very cool about this is that the New Yorker has put the original up against the edits in the same document. One thing I took away from those fiction workshops was that a good editor could do more than clean up your mistakes, they could add punch. They had distance that the author doesn’t have and can see things in a new light.

When I read the original and the edits on the same page I find myself drawn to the newer version, the collaboration. Why? It brings us from being told to being shown. It leaves less said and more to my imagination. Through omission, we get so much more about the characters. The empty spaces in our own lives fill in the empty spaces in theirs. The tension that Carver writes into his last section of the story is punched home in two or three sentences by the editor.

Carver’s widow, Tess Gallagher is pushing to have some of the stories re-released as Carver had originally written. I think it would be more interesting to see the original and the edit side-by-side. Let’s see how they endure.

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