My brother Mike had this to say:
There was an interesting new yorker article about carver a few years ago which focused on his relationship with his editor (whose name escapes me). Apparently Carver’s sparse style was largely a result of his editor’s cutting and hacking to get to the essence of his stories – Carver’s initial drafts were much more descriptive than spare. Carver was also somewhat emotionally dependent on his editor. The article included some correspondence between the two of them and some pages that had been marked up in pen by the editor as well as a one of the storied (from Cathedral I believe) in its original form. I know Tess Gallagher controlled his estate and papers so I think she was somehow invovled in the article if not the author, as I believe she wanted to get his original style out for people to see. Anyway, it’s somewhat interesting if you’re a fan of his.UPDATE: Friend and stalwart journalist Dan Weissmann offered the following comment:
Hey Jeff– His earlier stories are worth checking out too, although they are, as you might expect, more unremittingly dark. Some heartbreaking– and often bleakly funny– stuff, and the storytelling itself is remarkable. (the sentences! the paragraphs! the understatement! etc.)
“Where I’m Calling From” is a retrospective of his career as a short-story writer, which I think he had a hand in editing not long before his death. A bunch of the stories from “Cathedral” show up there too, but it’s probably the best one-stop-shopping expedition, if you’re curious.
My days start early and end late.
At the end, I’m usually reading.
I’ve got a bunch of books next to our bed and have been making my way through them slowly.
Raymond Carver’s short story collection Cathedral is one I’ve been reading a few pages at a time before sleep overcomes me.
Although I had heard a recording of an interview of Carver that was made shortly before his death in 1988 and had seen the Robert Altman movie, “Short Cuts,” which is based on a Carver story, I had not yet before read the short stories for which he is so famous.
They are bleak and riveting and sad, with little moments of hope and uplift and connection thrown in.
Carver gives us an unblinking look at the lives of ordinary people caught in the grips of alchohol, of unhappy relationships, and of missed opportunities. In his trademark spare sentences, he unfolds, sentence by sentence, the world that he creates.
It is not so much the action and the subjects about which he writes-a father going to see a son by train and then deciding not to get off, a couple in a relationship that had failed, worked and is starting to fail again-but how he describes the scenes and the characters’ sense of dwindling possibility.
The themes of being powerless against inevitable change resonates strongly throughout the work, of which I have read a little more than half.
Carver seems to be drawing on the material provided by his own life. The son of a heavy drinker, he battled with alcohol and also had cancer that eventually killed him. Despite his tendency toward darkness in his stories, thanks to a decade he shared with Tess Gallagher, he himself felt gratitude for what he had experienced.
This thought is expressed on his tombstone, which reads:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
One feels the same sentiment in his poem, “Gravy,” which he wrote shortly before his death and about the final 10 years of his life-a time that he did not think he would have:
Gravy No other word will do. For that’s what it was.Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years. Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”
So, at moments early and late, when the tasks I have chosen seem more than the resources I can bring to bear and the time I have to accomplish them, I will think of Carver, his characters, his tombstone and his gravy.