November 23, 2009

“I was all smooth surface with nothing inside except emptiness.”

Ray Carver captivated me the very first time I read this story. He seemed both broken and whole, knowing and confused, and it's only recently that I'm coming to realize the extent of power that was wielded over him by an editor. Gordon Lish was a great discoverer, but not a great writer. But for all of his meddling, and the extent to which he altered truths and minimized character, Carver's stories were not destroyed. It's kind of amazing when you start to read through the rough drafts, startling to see the broad-handed strokes of difference.

Carver's anthology came out recently and I'm interested to read it. I might go to the library some time this week to see if they have it. Until then, I'll have to make do with one of my favorite collections of his:

A look at Ray Version vs. Lish's:

My friend Mel
, a cardiologist,
was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right. The four of us were sitting around his kitchen table drinking gin. It was Saturday afternoon.
Sunlight filled the kitchen from the big window behind the sink. There were Mel Herb
and me I
and his second wife, Teresa—Terri, we called her—and my wife, Laura. We lived in Albuquerque,
then. But but
we were all from somewhere else. There was an ice bucket on the table. The gin and the tonic water kept going around, and we somehow got on the subject of love. Mel Herb
thought real love was nothing less than spiritual love. He said When he was young
he’d spent five years in a seminary before quitting to go to medical school. He He’d left the Church at the same time, but he
said he still looked back on to
those years in the seminary as the most important in his life.
Terri said the man she lived with before she lived with Mel
loved her so much he tried to kill her.
Herb laughed after she said this. He made a face. Terri looked at him.
Then Terri she
said, “He beat me up one night, the last night we lived together
. He dragged me around the living room by my ankles. He kept saying, , all the while saying,
‘I love you, don’t you see?
I love you, you bitch.’ He went on dragging me around the living room. My , my
head kept knocking on things.” TerriShe
looked around the table at us and then looked at her hands on her glass
. “What do you do with love like that?” she said.
She was a bone-thin woman with a pretty face, dark eyes, and brown hair that hung down her back. She liked necklaces made of turquoise, and long pendant earrings. She was fifteen years younger than Herb, had suffered periods of anorexia, and during the late sixties, before she’d gone to nursing school, had been a dropout, a “street person” as she put it. Herb sometimes called her, affectionately, his hippie.

“My God, don’t be silly. That’s not love, and you know it,” Mel
said. “I don’t know what you’d call it,
—madness is what I’d call it—
but I sure know you wouldn’t call it it’s sure as hell not
“Say what you want to, but I know it was
he loved me
,” Terri said. “
I know he did.
It may sound crazy to you, but it’s true just the same. People are different, Mel Herb
. Sure, sometimes he may have acted crazy. Okay. But he loved me. In his own way, maybe, but he loved me. There was was
love there, Mel Herb
. Don’t say there wasn’t deny me that
let out his breath. He held his glass and turned to Laura and me. “The man
threatened to kill me, me
Mel said. He finished his drink and reached for the gin bottle. “Terri’s a romantic. Terri’s of the ‘Kick-me-so-I’ll-know-you-love-me’ school. Terri, hon, don’t look that way.” MelHe
reached across the table and touched Terri’s her
cheek with his fingers. He grinned at her.
“Now he wants to make up,” Terri said.
“After he tries to dump on me.” She wasn’t smiling.

“Make up what?” Mel
said. “What is there to make up? I know what I know. That’s
, and that’s

“What would you call it then?” Terri said.
“How’d we get started on this subject anyway?” Terri said. She raised her glass and drank from it. “Herb always has love on his mind,” she said. “Don’t you, honey?” She smiled
, and I thought that was the last of it.
“I just wouldn’t call Ed
’s behavior love. That’s
, that’s
all I’m saying, honey,” Mel Herb
said. “What about you guys?” Mel he
said to Laura and me. “Does that sound like love to you?”

I shrugged.
“I’m the wrong person to ask
,” I said. I didn’t even know the man. I’ve only heard his name mentioned in passing. Carl.
I wouldn’t know. You’d have to know all the particulars. Not in my book it isn’t, but who’s to say? There’re lots of different ways of behaving and showing affection. That way doesn’t happen to be mine.
But I think what you’re saying, Herb,
is that love is an absolute. ?

Mel said, “The kind of love I’m talking about is
,” Herb said

The kind of love I’m talking about, you don’t try to kill people.”

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