David Ulin on the LOA’s Raymond Carver


What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is stunningly desolate, a group of stories so laconic they almost perfectly reflect the resignation of characters struggling with alcoholism, infidelity and the desperation of diminished dreams…

“Despite the book’s success, Carver was unhappy at how he was labeled; “There’s something about ‘minimalist,’ ” he grumbled in 1983, “that smacks of smallness of vision and execution that I don’t like.” Two years ago, his widow Tess Gallagher announced plans to release the stories as her husband had conceived them, in a collection called Beginners

“[It’s] published for the first time in Collected Stories, and although it comes at the end, it can’t help but function as a centerpiece… it skews the way the collection showcases Carver’s career.

“The purpose of a retrospective is not so much to highlight individual stories as to trace how a writer’s aesthetic has grown. Here, the prominence of Beginners adds a subtext that threatens to subvert the larger arc. That’s because, in the main, the pared-down versions of the stories are better, which opens the question of where authenticity resides.”

David Ulin reviewing the Collected Stories of Raymond Carver, out now from the Library of America, in which he plays off the relationship between these two versions of the same stories in order to describe the broad arc of Carver’s career. The piece ends with an argument that Beginners, although an interesting artifact, should have been skipped over in favor of including Carver’s poems, which are “a corollary to his narrative work.”

Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →