Sunday, 2 December 2007

Editing/Cutting - Learn From The Best

There was a fascinating article in Saturday's Guardian (unmissable reading for anyone interested in the arts) on editing in relation to Raymond Carver.
This American short story writer and poet died in 1988. His writing is wonderful, sharp, pignant and sparse and again unmissable reading. And it's the sparseness that's under discussion here.

His widow, the poet Tess Gallagher who spends a lot of time in Ireland, has brought out a new version of his collection "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" published in 1981. The difference being, similar the director's cuts of Blade Runner amongst others, Raymond Carver's writing was heavily edited by his editor Gordon Lish. This publication is the stories as written before Gordon Lish worked on them.

Lish, an editor at Esquire magazine and Alfred Knopf as well as a novelist in his own right, made major changes to many of the stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, cutting about half of Carver's original words and changing more than half of the endings. Gallagher, who was closely involved with Carver's later work, plans to reverse many of Lish's changes. Her plan is publish the results under a title Carver originally gave to one of the stores, Beginners.

Carver wrote to Lish in 1980, before the collection was published, and after he had met Gallagher, asking him to do everything in his power to stop the book from being published.

"If the book were to be published as it is in its present edited form," he wrote, "I may never write another story, that's how closely, God forbid, some of those stories are to my sense of regaining my health and mental well-being."

Lish ignored Carver and the changes he suggested. The book went on to cement Carver's reputation as the poet of American suburban despair.

According to William L Stull, who has edited several posthumous Carver collections, Lish cut some of Carver's stories by half (others say up to 70 per cent), removing flashbacks and interior reflections.

So here is the end of "One More Thing" from "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" L. D. is a drunk. Maxine, his wife, is obsessed with people's star signs. The story is largely dialogue, pointed up by "L. D. said", "Rae said", "Maxine said". Anything more expressive is seldom permitted to reach the page. Eventually, L. D. is making his way "out of this nuthouse". The final three paragraphs of "One More Thing" - and of the collection itself - read like this:

"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 original manuscript of the story that Carver submitted to Gordon Lish has several comparatively long-winded paragraphs ending with

"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."

Which do you prefer?


econgirl said...

Oh, I hadn't seen that, looks interesting. I love Raymond Carver's work (both poetry and prose, but the latter moreso). Thanks for the heads up :)


I prefer the unedited version; I was going to say 'rightly or wrongly', but I prefer to think there isn't a right or wrong, only personal preference! Interesting piece. I wonder if Carver would have been successful without Gish?

Emerging Writer said...

If you find this interesting, have you read MsLexia quarterly magazine? They have a column with a before and after edited piece from the published book with the author explaining why they changed what they did. Fascinating.


I used to subscribe to MsLexia, and really enjoyed that before and after section!