Snow, down time and Raymond Carver

On New Year's day we got another inch or so of snow, putting our total at nearly a foot in 24 hours. And I have to say, I love it. Chris always laughs at me because the minute snow starts to fall from the sky, I get a gigantic grin on my face, beaming like a giddy child. Can't explain it, but snow makes me happy. Check back with me in a few days, perhaps, when I actually have to venture out of the house for something more than a quick trip to the gym -- and when the roads are more traveled, turning the roadside piles black and grimy -- but for now, I'm still thrilled. I'm actually enjoying 2008 a lot so far. After the chaos that was December, it's very strange to have no deadlines bearing down on me and actually have time to do what I want. I've been mildly productive, continuing my organizing streak, making piles to go to Goodwill, etc. It also means more down time for doing the things I've wanted to for ages, including afternoons of knitting, sewing, crafting and reading. In fact, I finally got around to alphabetizing my books, something I've been meaning to do since we moved here. (Don't laugh! I just hate it when I look for a specific book or story and can't find it.)

That particular task did remind me that I have so much reading I want and need to do, so many volumes that just haven't been cracked yet. One of my goals for this year -- I'm avoiding the word resolution -- is to try to read the equivalent of one short story a day. (By equivalent, I mean I may have a day when I read five or I may be reading a novel, in which case, I just need to read a significant chunk.)

I've been helped in my initial attempt by The New Yorker's winter fiction issue. I'm now gunning to read more Junot Diaz and Jhumpa Lahiri. (Lahiri's story, about a college student coping with his father's remarriage, was particularly moving to me.) I know, add them to the list, right? There's a really interesting article in there about Raymond Carver's relationship with his editor Gordon Lish and the extent to which Lish cut -- and, it looks to me -- even rewrote some of Carver's work.

It seems Lish cut Carver's manuscript for Carver's seminal "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" by a good 40%. It begs the question: was the minimalist style for which Carver is celebrated really of his own doing (and his own intent) or was it created by his editor? According to the article, Carver's widow, the poet Tess Gallagher, suggests that Carver was gut wrenched by Lish's edits on his first two collections, to the point that he nearly pulled the plug on the publication of "What We Talk About." (The New Yorker publishes a letter from Carver to Lish in which he long-windedly and reveals his sense of inner torture about the cut-down versions of his stories and begs Lish to halt publication.)

The article also includes an unedited version of the volume's title story, under Carver's original title, "Beginners." If you're familiar with the story -- which focuses on two couples drinking at a kitchen table and discussing love as the sun sets -- you'll likely be quite stunned at how different the original is, particularly towards the end. It becomes a very different tale with Lish's edits, ending on a different note and with, according to the New Yorker, lines that appear to have been written by Lish. (You can see the line by line edits Lish made to the story here, which include changing character names for what strikes me as no evident reason other than Lish's preference.)

I don't feel I know enough about fiction to say whether or not the original is a better story. I can certainly see some of the places where Lish may have felt there could be some reduction. But what startles me a bit, as a wannabe fiction writer, is how much the ending beat of the story is changed by the editor. Forgive me if it sounds dramatic, but it makes me wonder what the truth is in the rest of Carver's writing -- what he wanted us to experience, versus what Lish wanted to achieve. Gallagher's now hoping to re-publish "What We Talk About" with Carver's original versions of the stories in it, so perhaps we'll find out. For those of us who came to love short fiction in part because of Carver's stories, I'm not sure how much we want to know.