Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life
The first biography of america’s best-known short story writer of the late twentieth century.
The London Times called Raymond Carver "the American Chekhov." The beloved, mischievous, but more modest short-story writer and poet thought of himself as "a lucky man" whose renunciation of alcohol allowed him to live "ten years longer than I or anyone expected."
In that last decade, Carver became the leading figure in a resurgence of the short story. Readers embraced his precise, sad, often funny and poignant tales of ordinary people and their troubles: poverty, drunkenness, embittered marriages, difficulties brought on by neglect rather than intent. Since Carver died in 1988 at age fifty, his legacy has been mythologized by admirers and tainted by controversy over a zealous editor’s shaping of his first two story collections.
Carol Sklenicka penetrates the myths and controversies. Her decade-long search of archives across the United States and her extensive interviews with Carver’s relatives, friends, and colleagues have enabled her to write the definitive story of the iconic literary figure. Laced with the voices of people who knew Carver intimately, her biography offers a fresh appreciation of his work and an unbiased, vivid portrait of the writer.
made a mistake in editing Carver as he did. He believes that the worst he could be charged with is that he was “aggressive” with all his authors. “Carver was not by any means an isolated occasion. For pity’s sake, I did it all the time where I felt it was indicated. I believed that I was good enough at this not to have done it in instances where it wasn’t required.” It was not, he insists, a case of his imposing his personality on the personality of the writer, but rather his “sense of what was
drink on the bar and come home. He did. Later she understood that the pressure in his head renewed the “shame and helplessness of his drinking days” and “caused his brush with the old compulsion to drink.”22 Once Ray had hoped to buy a condo in Seattle. Now he and Tess rented a furnished apartment near the hospital for the seven weeks he would receive treatments. They spent four nights a week there and caught the ferry back to Port Angeles on Friday mornings. To make up for lost time, Ray worked
Ray had heard tales about the Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City, but he really had little conception of it when he and Maryann and the children, now four and five years old, headed there in August 1963. “Old Faithful,” their ten-year-old Chevy, was packed tight. A U-Haul box attached to the roof held the overload. They said their good-byes to Alice and her new husband, Clarence, in Paradise, promising to write and call, knowing they would be gone for at least a year. They’d never been east of Reno.
Sunday evening of the story, seemingly out of the blue, Marian asks Ralph if he ever thinks about that night, and he—against his better judgment, promising he won’t be angry—urges her to tell him the story. From here, Carver follows his demons through a very dark passage. Listening to Marian’s escapade, Ralph is erotically charged and horrified. She admits that she and Anderson had “a go at it” in his car, though—under Ralph’s angry questioning—she insists, “‘He didn’t come in me.’” Ralph then
place, we never bothered to knock,” Buey Davis recalled. “There was no such thing as an invitation to do anything. Our son would be just as apt to go to their place to eat as to come home. If they had something he liked, he’d probably just eat there. It was that kind of an arrangement.”7 This secure world of proud working-class people is vanished and longed for in most of Carver’s short stories. In the stories, characters migrate from place to place in a more prosperous and lonelier small-town