Monday, December 31, 2007

Carving Carver

The Role of the Editor

The story of how editor Gordon Lish shaped Raymond Carver's short stories into award-winning fiction is recounted in an August 1998 Times Magazine story written by D.T. Max. Nine years later, the Times ran another story, this time by Mokoto Rich, about Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher, "spearheading an effort to publish a volume of 17 original Carver stories whose highly edited versions were published in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Readers finally had a look at one of those stories, "Beginners" aka "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," in the New Yorker's Winter Fiction issue, out a couple of weeks ago.

On the magazine's website the New Yorker published "Beginners" as well as an illuminating companion, the version of "Beginners" that Lish edited.

After reading both versions, noting the differences, Lish's edit is the stronger story. "What We Talk About" is a concise, quick read compared to "Beginners," which appears bloated, messy and, surprise, unedited.

The point of each story is slightly different, perhaps because the tone of Lish's edited version is darker. "Beginners" at times feels more hopeful, but it is that hope that also makes it seem generic and unoriginal. Lish did his job as an editor and made Carver's work better; Carver's widow may feel the versions readers are familiar with are not the versions her husband liked, but in the example published in the New Yorker, Lish's edit is the version that should stand.

Also worth a look from that issue of the New Yorker:

And from the issue before the Winter Fiction issue, a story about another relationship between an editor and an author.


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