In gathering all of Carver’s stories, including early sketches and posthumously discovered works, The Library of America’s Collected Stories provides a comprehensive view of Carver’s career as we have come to know it… But it also prompts a fresh consideration of Carver by presenting Beginnings, an edition of the manuscript of What We Talk About When We Talk about Love that Carver submitted to Gordon Lish, his editor and a crucial influence on his development. Lish’s editing was so extensive that at one point Carver wrote him an anguished letter asking him not to publish the book.
-Carver: Collected Stories. Library of America
“There are always going to be readers who will feel that Gordon Lish did Raymond Carver a favor,” Mr. Rudin [Max Rudin, publisher of the Library of America] said, “or at least worked the kind of editorial magic that he was supposed to, and others who disagree, who will feel that Lish hijacked the stories, cutting and shaping them to serve his own, not Carver’s, vision.”
-“The Real Carver: Expansive or Minimal,” New York Times, Oct., 17, 2007
How can we understand how others are feeling, especially people who are so different from us? I see people who lead completely different lives from me every day, and I never bother to ask myself that question.
I first read “A Small, Good Thing,” Raymond Carver’s republished manuscript that was originally titled “The Bath” when first published, from a link a friend sent me in an email. Soon after, I read a book review about a new biography of Carver; detailing how he cruelly mistreated his first wife who supported him in poverty, and was mistreated by his editor Gordon Lish, who propelled him to riches and fame. The review was written by Stephen King.
I had picked up the Library of America’s Collected Works of Raymond Carver accidentally when searching the library. Unsure of which book of his to check out, since I didn’t know much about any of his books, I checked out the one with the most stories in it. Inside was “The Bath” contained in the book What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and “A Small, Good Thing,” in his manuscripts.
“The Bath” is a pale mirror of Carver’s original manuscript “A Small Good Thing.” When a story is so lightly sketched out, the smallest strokes can change everything. I wonder if Lish, as a veteran of fiction publishing, saw Carver’s words, his sentences, and he knew that he could create jarringly short stories, which would stick out enough to create interest. Maybe we would never know Carver’s stories if it weren’t for Lish creating something radically terse and sharp out of them. But they were not the stories Carver wanted to tell.