As with all reviews of Carver, the twin stories are Carver’s mostly alcoholic life and his relationship with heavy-handed — or creatively instructive — editor Gordon Lish.
Everyone agrees. Carver’s alcoholism = bad. And mostly the psychology of the Lish relationship = bad.
But almost everyone’s reactions become more complex when asked which stories they prefer, the Lish versions, the manuscripts that Carver submitted to Lish, or — and this is less mentioned — the stories as recovered by Carver during his final days like those in Cathedral say.
King and I agree that the difference between “A Small, Good Thing” (a story that Carver recovered and re-extended and made deep) better than “The Bath” (the ruthlessly edited Lish version). The fact that we had access to both versions for a long time, that they illustrated the two public presentations of Carver’s work, and the quality of both stories were the reasons that I chose “A Small, Good Thing” for the Health Anthology. Great stories to talk about Carver, his public reception, the role of the editor, minimalist fiction and the changing relationship of the author to his own work.
The contrast between “The Bath” (Lish-edited) and “A Small, Good Thing” (Ray Carver unplugged) is even less palatable. On her son’s birthday, Scotty’s mother orders a birthday cake that will never be eaten. The boy is struck by a car on his way home from school and winds up in a coma. In both stories, the baker makes dunning calls to the mother and her husband while their son lies near death in the hospital. Lish’s baker is a sinister figure, symbolic of death’s inevitability. We last hear from him on the phone, still wanting to be paid. In Carver’s version, the couple — who are actually characters instead of shadows — go to see the baker, who apologizes for his unintended cruelty when he understands the situation. He gives the bereaved parents coffee and hot rolls. The three of them take this communion together and talk until morning. “Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this,” the baker says. This version has a satisfying symmetry that the stripped-down Lish version lacks, but it has something more important: it has heart.
Where we, and many others, disagree is over Carver’s most famous story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” which Carver presented to Lish as “Beginners.” Lish’s editing was ruthless as a restoration of the manuscript published online by the New Yorker shows. King compares the two, citing the highly different prose styles. The work Carver presented “consists of dense blocks of narration broken up by bursts of dialogue.” While the version we saw as WWTAWWTAL as edited by Lish, “there is so much white space that some of the stories…look almost like chapters in a James Patterson novel.”
While King does, as seen in the quotes above, pass judgment on the Lish edited stories in WWTAWWTAL, King doesn’t exactly pass judgement on the title story itself. I personally still after many rereadings prefer the story as edited by Lish known as WWTAWWTAL to Beginners. That makes my own thoughts about the Carver/Lish relationship more complex. When the editors of the Health Anthology substituted WWTAWWTAL for “A Small, Good Thing,” I felt a little like Carver. What the hell were they thinking! But I agree WWTAWWTAL is a very good story, a better story, the story that we know Carver–the public Carver of a certain period–by. I am wondering now is WWTAWWTAL more instructive or less so than ASGT?
After taking a vacation from blogging for the first time in over five years, I have more than enough to be writing about, but I thought I’d start out by posting a reply I just sent to Rick Smith of Metro Magazine who was asking about the future of the Triangle for communications, infotech and biotech and anything else than comes to mind.
There is an old sufi saying that teaching can only happen when the time, the place and the people are all at the correct stage for learning to happen. In the case of technology leadership, you need to add resources to the list.
The Triangle got an early start betting on our universities to supply the people either directly by educating them or indirectly by providing a desirable intellectual and cultural environment to attract and keep the best.
We built the place based on the relationships among the universities and the cities of the Triangle, but we’ve yet to create an integrated transportation system to really foster the interactions that we need to lead.
Through MCNC and NCREN we have built the network infrastructure for research and teaching, but the commercial mobile networks are still spotty in their coverage compared to the areas with which we compete.
We’ve been slightly diverse by developing biotech and infotech but we need to broaden beyond those two core industries. I think there are opportunities in energy management for example that have not been developed by that will make a giant difference in the next ten years.
The time is changing and I think in our favor if the state acts bravely and invests wisely in education and lifestyle that will continue to attract the best in infotech and biotech but also in transportation, energy management solutions, and nanotech. There are significant interactions between these areas and we will see more as they develop.
We will need to continue to support schools, our universities, our parks and the arts if we wish to continue to grow and to innovate. We are competing with the Bay Area, Austin, Boston, Seattle/Portland and Boulder/Denver more than with Atlanta or Richmond or Charlotte (although Charlotte should it recover from betting far too heavily on finance would be a strong partner for the Triangle and for the State).
I could, as you know write for ages about social media, which is the open source culture pushed out into our daily lives. Ultimately that means businesses thinking about their relationships with their employees and their customers very differently — that’s where the impact is being felt and will continue to have influence. Every transaction is not turned into a payment; despite of how phone companies charge us for text messages. Some transactions and activities are about relationships as any small town business owner knows well. Expect the importance of relationships to cause some very large changes as customers continue to be able to raise their voices with strong effect — positive as well as negative.
Computer screens will continue to move to the edges of size — large as is being tested with home theatres and small as is being tested on phones and netbooks. Desktops will be pushed into special categories such as use by design groups say.
That means more mobile but also and the computing to drive moble will be over the net, over the air. The delivery of this computing, this access to usable data, will mean that we need more bandwidth. If we don’t lead the country there, we lose. But also we need innovative services to be delivered over the air to these theatre sized screens and this portable/mobile devices. These will be appropriate to the use — say audio and video for directions, say quick updates in text to voice or searchable audio and video, say location awareness integrated into many functions. That means flexible datacenters with high connectivity and efficient cheap power and cooling running effective database and visualization services.
Did I say visualization? Yes that cuts across all the categories and is an area that we need to develop along with analytics. Expect to see businesses looking for better ways to understand the data deluge that is now available to them, but also expect individuals to demand similar services which is something entirely new.
If we, as our government and industry, provide the infrastructure through proper taxation, then we will continue to have the place, will continue to produce and attract the people, will have our eyes on the time and will in the end reap the resources and rewards.