Tim O’Brien once said of Raymond Carver, ‘he uses the English language like a whittler’s knife, carving stark and unadorned prose-objects, paring away everything but the very core of human emotion’.
is Carver’s most famous collection of short stories – What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
– before this whittling process had begun.It is the unedited version of the masterpiece which would be cut by almost fifty percent by Carver’s editor and mentor, Gordon Lish, before its original publication in 1981 and which would go on to become one of the most influential pieces of modern literature.
Carver’s preoccupation with the marrow of things is just as present in these longer stories. A young girl, dancing with her lover amidst the debris of an older man’s life, has her first forewarning of the dangers of adulthood, and is filled with an ‘unbearable happiness’.A man and woman lock themselves in a motel room and slowly, painfully, acknowledge the end of a relationship, while somewhere else in the lonely Midwest a man is photographed over and over again as he attempts to locate himself in a world that seems utterly without focus. But as we move through the manifold little tragedies at the heart of the ordinary – so much at the core of Carver’s work – new layers, new nuances, new meanings reveal themselves.
Where the Lish / Carver collaboration cut this collection to the ‘linguistic bone’, these fleshier stories say what was previously unsaid, filling in the narrative silences that have both inspired and mystified readers for so long.Beginners
is a fascinating insight into the aesthetic of a literary great and, in the questions it raises, may just spark off one of the great cultural debates of our times.Author Profile
Raymond Carver was born in Clatskanie, Oregon, in 1938.His father was a saw-mill worker and his mother was a waitress and clerk. His first short stories appeared in Esquire
during Gordon Lish’s tenure as fiction editor in the 1970’s. Carver’s work began to reach a wider audience with the 1976 publication of Will You Please be Quiet, Please
, but it was not until the 1981 publication of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
under Gordon Lish, now at Knopf, that he began to achieve real literary fame.This collection was edited by more than 40 per cent before publication, and Carver dedicated it to his fellow writer and future wife, Tess Gallagher, with the promise that he would one day republish his stories at full length. He went on to write two more collections of stories, Cathedral
which moved away from the earlier minimalist style into a new expansiveness, as well as several collections of poetry. He died in 1988, aged fifty.Reviews