Raymond Carver died in 1988 at the tragically early age of 50. Almost unique among American writers inhabiting his sphere of fame and influence, Carver never published a novel. His reputation as one of the foremost chroniclers of 20th century life in the United States is based almost entirely upon a prodigious output of short stories. The style was amply and aptly suited to Carver: he was at the vanguard of a movement seeking to redraw in stark terms the line between short fiction and long fiction which had given rise to new terminology like “novella” and “novelette.” Carver was a proud master of the aesthetic which freely jumped across media, but was perhaps most especially suit to his forte.
The collected short stories of Raymond Carver are, if they were nothing else, a textbook lesson in the power and promise of minimalism.
Carver had, of course, initially published his short fiction in magazines that ranged from nationally known publications like Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire to more regional fare like The Iowa Review and Carolina Quarterly. Such was the vaunted accessibility of his stories that he his credits also stretched from Playgirl to the New Yorker. Although he would eventually republish most of these stories in collections himself—including his first collection Will You be Quiet, Please? which came very close to netting him a National Book Award—it would not be until 2009 that a comprehensive collection covering his entire career would finally see the light of the day.
The Library of America’s Raymond Carver: Collected Stories offers readers the chance to follow the author through the chronological processing of a major American writer. Because Carver often went back to edit work which had already been published, perhaps the single greatest decision made by the Library of Congress in compiling this collection is the inclusion of Beginners which is the unpublished manuscript form of what would come to be published as What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. This addition adds a unique layer to the usual business of following the chronological trajectory of writer in a posthumous “Collected Works” volume by offering a rare glimpse at what actually goes on during the editing process between when a publisher receives a manuscript and the book based on that manuscript is finally bound and printed. Even if Carver was not one of the greatest masters of the shorty stories, Collected Stories would be worth reading alone for the chance to compare some very well-known works of fiction as originally conceived by the author and as they turned out after input by editor Gordon Lish.
The book offers readers the chance to take up sides with some literary heavyweights: Was Lish absolutely instrumental in making Carver into the famous writer as Don DeLillo believes or was he merely a baleful and heartless intrusion as Stephen King as criticized?