Everyone Needs an Editor [Not just me]

Some of you might have read about Tess Gallagher [the widow of Raymond Carver, and his second wife] who wants to publish 17 of Carver’s original short stories. Carver was a minimalist [A literary style exemplifying economy and restraint], and his most successful collection of stories, and what put ‘minimalist’ on the map, was entitled, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. It was published by Knopf in ’81 and edited by Gordon Lish, the prince of minimalist editors.

Gallagher, herself a well known writer and poet, wants to publish her late husband’s stories as they were original written. Carver, who died in ’88 at 50, had tried to set the record straight himself. According to an article in The New York Times [The Arts Section, on Wednesday, October 17, 2007] “He restored and republished five of the stories” and published them in a collection entitled, Where I’m Calling From. These were edited by yet another well known literary editor, Gary Fisketjon, also at Knopf.

Carver, it seemed, tried to stop the publication of that first, famous collection. Lish had “heavily edited, and in many cases radically cut, the stories before publication to hone the author’s voice.” At the time, [Motoko Rich writes in the NYTIMES] Carver begged Mr. Lish to stop production of the book. Carver had written Lish saying that he had “made so many of the stories in this collection better, far better than they were before.” He was afraid of what his writer friends [Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff, Geoffrey Wolff and Don Hall would think.] But Knopf went ahead and published it to much critical acclaim.

Published, these edited stories [by Gordon Lish] made Carver’s career. When they appeared Doris Betts in the Washington Post praised Carver’s “verbal skill, the distilled pungency, the laser focus of his implacable vision.” Michael Wood, writing in The Times Book Review, said “his writing is full of edges and silences, haunted by things not said, not even to be guessed at.”

Lish’s papers are the Lilly Library of Indiana University and for the last 25 years two English professors-William L. Stuff and Maureen P. Carroll–have been reconstructing original versions of Carver’s stories.

So, if you think “you’ve been edited!” take a look at the original,[that Tess Gallagher wants to publish] and how Lish edited it in 1981:

The original version:

L.D. put the shaving bag under his arm again and once more picked up the suitcase. “I just want to say one more thing, Maxine. Listen to me. Remember this,” he said. “I love you. I love you no matter what happens. I love you too, Bea. I love you both.” He stood there at the door and felt his lips begin to tingle as he looked at them for what, he believed, might be the last time. “Goodbye,” he said.

  “You call this love, L.D.?” Maxine said. She let go of Bea’s hand. She made a fist. Then she shook her head and jammed her hands into her coat pockets. She stared at him and then dropped her eyes to something on the floor near his shoes.

It came to him with a shock that he would remember this night and her like this. He was terrified to think that in the years ahead she might come to resemble a woman he couldn’t place, a mute figure in a long coat, standing in the middle of a lighted room with lowered eyes.

   “Maxine!” he cried. “Maxine!”

   “Is this what love is, L.D.?” she said, fixing her eyes on him. Her eyes were terrible and deep, and he held them as long as he could.

Okay, here is how Gordon Lish edited that same material:

   L.D. put the shaving bag under his arm and picked up the suitcase.

   He said, “I just want to say one more thing.”

   But then he could not think what it could possibly be.

Well, you can say one thing about minimalists…they write short.

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