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 per cent 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 BiographyRaymond Carver
was born in Clatskanie, Oregon, in 1938. He grew up in Yakima, Washington; graduated from Humboldt State College in northern California; and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He published his first short story in 1960, and his poetry and fiction appeared in periodicals and anthologies over the next two decades. Carver’s stories reached a wider audience with the 1976 publication of Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
With the appearance of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
in 1981 his writing received international recognition. Gordon Lish served as editor of both collections, but he surprised Carver by cutting the original manuscript of What We Talk About
by more than half before its publication. Carver had dedicated the book to his fellow writer, companion, and future wife, Tess Gallagher, promising her that he would one day republish his stories at full length. Beginners
restores the seventeen stories from What We Talk About
to the forms in which he submitted them to his editor.All but four had previously appeared in literary magazines. Carver went on to publish two more collections of stories, Cathedral
each of which departed from the astringent ‘minimalism’ of What We Talk About
and developed the nuanced empathy and expansiveness that was emerging in Beginners.
His honors include one of the first Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Awards, nominations for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and Poetry
magazine’s Levinson Prize. In 1988 he was inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Hartford. Raymond Carver died on 2 August 1988 at age fifty, shortly after completing a book of poems published posthumously as A New Path to Waterfall
. He was acclaimed ‘America’s Chekhov’ in the Sunday Times
after his death.
(born 1943) is an acclaimed poet, essayist, author and playwright. Her honors include a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, two National Endowment for the Arts awards, and the Maxine Cushing Gray Foundation Award. She met Raymond Carver at a writers' conference in 1978, and the couple were married in 1988, six weeks prior to his death. As his will directed, she assumed the management of his literary estate. She published five Carver stories posthumously in Call If You Need Me
, and successfully campaigned for the republishing of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
, in their original and intended form. She currently teaches at Bucknell University and Whitman College.