Was Carver’s prose cut too lean?
Posted by: Keir Graff
In the Guardian (“What a carve-up“), James Campbell uses the flap over Tess Gallagher’s plans to publish a retitled, reedited version of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk about When We Talk about Love (1981) as a jumping-off point to examine the larger phenomenon of “restored” texts. There’s some thought-provoking stuff about Carver (who “now belongs in the peculiar community of writers who have published more after death than before”)…
But then, if Gallagher and Stull get their way, and the formerly stultified L. D. is permitted to shout and repeat himself, where stands the reputation of Carver, one of the most influential writers of American prose of the past quarter-century? In later books, such as Cathedral, Carver appeared to be progressing to a more ample style – a development not welcomed by all his readers. According to Stull, “the ostensible transformation of Raymond Carver from minimalist to humanist was not a change of head or heart. It was a change of hands.” For better or worse, it seems, the firm must be restored to its original proprietorship: not Carver & Lish Ltd; just Raymond Carver Enterprises.
Not to spoil the ending, but Campbell’s conclusion kind of reminds me of some of the reactions to J. K. Rowling’s recent revelations about her characters’ secret lives.
We can only wait to see if they succeed in reaching an accommodation with Knopf (my guess is that they will). But however altruistic they may be, there is no escaping the fact that their mission to rescue L. D. from his abduction by Gordon Lish will bring about his demise in the place where he really lives: the imagination of readers.