I’m listing just a few of my thoughts while reading the Library of America volume, Raymond Carver: Collected Stories. I’m particularly interested in the Beginners chapter which is the manuscript version of the stories prior to Gordon Lish’s edits and the publication as What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
The first story I read—disregarding my first reading many years ago when What We Talk About When We Talk About Love was published in 1981 and, I believe, I read it in 1985-1986—“Why Don’t You Dance?” was not shortened too much by Carver’s editor, Gordon Lish. However, I like the changes Lish made. He took away the names of the characters, Max, Jack, and Carla and instead called them, the girl, the boy, and the man. Somehow the people seem more universal. In their incidentality, their situations seem all the more significant. Or maybe, Max, Jack, and Carla are just not the right names.
Another interesting change is, pre-Lish sentence, “The buffed aluminum kitchen set occupied a part of the driveway.” and the post-Lish sentence reads, “The buffed aluminum kitchen set took up a part of the driveway.” I like the way, in this story, took up sounds. I cannot explain it but it fits the action. The kitchen set does occupy part of the driveway but it is being taken away from the main character because his life is obviously falling apart. The kitchen set also seems more of an active participant when it takes up.
I also like the paragraph that Lish changed to –ing verbs (verbal gerunds) touching, plugging, turning, picking, making, in place of Carver’s past tense verbs.
However, I’m finding that mostly I like the pre-Lish stories a little bit better, at least at this moment in my life. I know when I read What We Talk About…that I loved them. I need to find the issue of the New Yorker which published both versions of one of the stories and I remember thinking, at that time, that Carver seemed to be rambling. So, I’m fickle!
Carver’s story, “Want to See Something?” prior to Lish’s heavy editing seemed richer to me. In the longer version, dark and light are contrasted in an effective way that illustrates opposites, night, moon, flashlight, airplane lights, baby’s white hair and skin, white exhaust, dirt, slugs. Lots of dark/white made for a rich visual which was almost totally depleted by Lish. In the heavily edited version, the baby was removed and the woman’s thoughts at the end of the original were fleshed out and I think shortened too much by Lish.
“A Small Good Thing” that was retitled by Lish as “The Bath.” Even though the pre-Lish version shows the boy, Scotty, dying as well as the other boy, Nelson, I believe the pre-Lish version is more full of hope. In the post-Lish version the boys are not shown dying nor are the parents shown to go visit the baker. The scene with the baker and the parents is redemptive and explores humans comforting each other and forgiving even after cruelty. The pre-Lish and post-Lish versions seem to be entirley different stories.