So apparently, the short-story collection that made Raymond Carver’s reputation, What We Talk about When We Talk about Love (1981), wasn’t really what he had in mind. I should say “allegedly.” Carver’s widow, Tess Gallagher (Dear Ghosts, 2006), wants to publish a retitled version (Beginners) that reverses many of the reputedly heavy edits performed by Gordon Lish.
Lish himself has cast doubt over the status of the “original documents”, and his successor at Knopf, Gary Fisketjon, told the New York Times he was “appalled” at the idea. “I would rather dig my friend Ray Carver out of the ground,” he said. “I don’t understand what Tess’s interest in doing this is except to rewrite history.”
Yes, that sound is me rubbing my hands together, eagerly anticipating more acrimony. It’s a heck of a story and raises a lot of questions. Even though Carver did plead with Lish not to publish the edited version, was he unhappy when the resulting book made him famous? And would he now want Gallagher to bring an earlier version to light? How authentic is the manuscript? And if it stinks, will Carver’s fans be forced to revise their opinions of him?
I also always love learning about books that were heavily influenced by editors. I believe that it happens a lot less often nowadays–cost-cutting and so forth–but it’s a great reminder that writing, like all art forms, is still a collaborative medium.