A celebration of a favorite writer deepens into an unexpectedly complex and ambivalent response.
Evenson (Critical Studies/CalArts; The Warren, 2016, etc.) first read Carver’s classic collection of minimalist fiction when he was an 18-year-old student intent on learning to write fiction himself. He wasn’t well-versed in Carver’s contemporaries, so he came to him from an unorthodox direction: “I had Beckett and Kafka as models for what I hoped literature could do,” he writes. “Which probably made me see Carver in a very eccentric light.” Adding to the eccentricity of the experience was the fact that Evenson was a Mormon and therefore abstained from alcohol, which fueled almost all of these stories and was such a struggle for Carver. Yet Evenson’s close readings proved profoundly influential, as he felt that Carver’s stories had “a productive ambiguity that stimulates a creative energy that keeps them active and alive in a way that books more insistent on ‘meaning something’ don’t manage.” Seeing Carver’s seminal fiction through Evenson’s eyes will bring readers back to the work fresh. Then things get trickier. Like the rest of the literary world, Evenson discovered just how aggressively editor Gordon Lish had refocused these stories, in some cases cutting as much as 80 percent from Carver’s original manuscript. As Carver moved away from the severity of such minimalism and published more detailed versions of some of these stories, Evenson thought that the new versions “felt less like the Carver I knew and more like stories that didn’t have his distinctive imprint.” Further complicating the issue is the fact that Evenson would subsequently have some ambivalent experiences with Lish as his editor and some stonewalling from the Carver estate while researching a piece on the Lish-Carver relationship. The author leaves no question that he remains grateful for the stories as he first encountered them and prefers them to the versions Carver favored, yet he identifies with how the author felt like an “imposter.”
A revelatory meditation on reading, writing, and editing.