Wednesday, October 17, 2007

DeLish

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So short story master Raymond Caver's works might have been edited beyond his satisfaction by Gordon Lish and others prior to their publication. They were published though, to wide acclaim. Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher, now wants to restore the Lish-licked texts to their former "expansiveness." The NY Times wades through this potential literary controversy pretty well. Gallagher's proposal for a Carver revision is posted by the NY Times, too. To be honest, the side by side comparisons do not bode well for the superiority of Carver's initial vision. Let's take a look.

Here is the ending of the story "One More Thing" in its unedited glory:

L.D. put the shaving bag under his arm again and once more picked up the suitcase. “I just want to say one more thing, Maxine. Listen to me. Remember this,” he said. “I love you. I love you no matter what happens. I love you too, Bea. I love you both.” He stood there at the door and felt his lips begin to tingle as he looked at them for what, he believed, might be the last time. “Good-bye,” he said.

“You call this love, L.D.?” Maxine said. She let go of Bea’s hand. She made a fist. Then she shook her head and jammed her hands into her coat pockets. She stared at him and then dropped her eyes to something on the floor near his shoes.

It came to him with a shock that he would remember this night and her like this. He
was terrified to think that in the years ahead she might come to resemble a woman he couldn’t place, a mute figure in a long coat, standing in the middle of a lighted room with lowered eyes.

“Maxine!” he cried. “Maxine!”

“Is this what love is, L.D.?” she said, fixing her eyes on him. Her eyes were terrible and deep, and he held them as long as he could.
Here's the ending as edited by Gordon Lish and published in the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love:

L.D. put the shaving bag under his arm and picked up the suitcase.

He said, “I just want to say one more
thing.”

But then he could not think what it
could possibly be.
The unedited version is imbued with more closure, and a lot more melodramatics. You get more of a sense of how the story resolves (in how the relationship is dissolved). The actions are clunky, heavy handed, somewhat veering towards cliché. The edited version, in its concision, allows for the characters in the story to live on, to inhabit a space beyond the page, to, in a sense, endure. The notion of "one more thing" needed to be said becomes imbued with the same power as the more explosive unedited version, but this power and strength comes from what is not said, what is lost on L.D. The unedited version attempts to redeem L.D. while the edited version leaves the reading much more open. There's more respect for the reader in the edited version, and that respect, I think, allows the story to be more nuanced, dare I say more literary. Suddenly the characters are left within the reader, to resolve or not resolve their predicament. Suddenly this scene can be either a repeated, common incident among these characters, or the end to a strange family unit. The possibility of L.D. loving Maxine isn't lost, but what it is he has to say, what he's feeling, is, for the moment, lost on him. The story shows relationships for their mystery, their dysfunction, their intangibility. The longer version flattens these senses. The expansive version in effect creates minimal meanings, while the minimal version allows for a more meaningful story.

We're kind of stuck with a chicken or the egg situation here. Carver's reputation was founded on the stories in their leaner form. I wonder if he'd have had the same impact if they weren't given this treatment. They endure because of their lack of resolution. They stay with readers because there's so much that isn't said.

The Real Carver: Expansive or Minimal? [NY Times]

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2 Comments:

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12:43 PM  
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12:43 PM  

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