Friday, August 25, 2006

Carving Carver?

Trying to find out more about the two versions of A Small, Good Thing by Ray Carver, I learned almost too much. First, there were three versions, apparently, and two won awards. Also, there were multiple versions of other stories. And most surprising of all to me, but not apparently to many other people, the reason for the different versions wasn't a stylistic change of heart on the part of the author. Instead, it was a matter of editing, by an editor, namely Gordon Lish.

Lish was the most famous editor of literary fiction in the seventies. He wielded considerable power, made names, etc. In editing Ray Carver, he apparently cut the early stories considerably. It's amazing what can be done by cutting. A famous example is the editing Ezra Pound did of TS Eliot's The Wasteland. Some people consider it created the voice of the poem. In the case of Carver, Lish edited by cutting away until the voice we all think of as uniquely Carver's is revealed. He is said to have pared away detail and sentimentality until what was left was stark and strange. And utterly memorable, of course. Carver, as he gained confidence, allegedly argued against this, winning his freedom, so to speak, with the celebrated collection, Cathedral.

So the final version of A Small, Good Thing was really close to the first version, and the first well known version, The Bath--that is the spooky, minimalist one--is the product of Lish's editing.

Does any of this matter as far as Carver's accomplishment goes? I'm thinking about this and may have more to say on it tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    Thanks to you help I have just linked to your blog & hope that's ok with you, I am unsure of blog-etiquette! I am slightly green about your encouter with Carver but I'll get over it.