Sunday, July 21, 2013

Carvered Up

 Tess Gallagher and her husband, Raymond Carver, 1984. Photograph: Marion Ettlinger/© Marion Ettlinger/Corbis Outlin

Here is a link to a great article about (among other writers) Raymond Carver and his editor. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love has been re-released as Carver's unedited version Beginners. Carver's work has always struck me as nasty, brutish and short (in a really good kinda way). His short stories 'Tell the Women We're Going' and 'So Much Water So Close to Home', the latter the basis of the Australian movie Jindabyne, are shocking, visceral and incredibly tight in their execution.
Turns out that 'tight' was mainly down to the editor Gordon Lish. He changed names and story endings, sometimes cutting out the last paragraphs completely. He slashed the word counts by up to seventy percent. Without Lish, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love may have been about as tight as a tone-deaf teenage shed band.

Lish's cuts were sweeping, wholesale, and so violent that Carver described them as "surgical amputation and transplant". He responded with a now-famous cri de coeur, writing a letter to Lish explaining his horror: "I don't want to sound melodramatic," he wrote, "but I've come back from the grave here to start writing stories once more . . . I'll tell you the truth, my very sanity is on the line."

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