WHAT IT USED TO BE LIKE by Maryann Burk Carver


A Portrait of My Marriage to Raymond Carver
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A bittersweet account of the author’s hardscrabble life with her husband, the writer Raymond Carver.

Divided into four decades, this memoir opens with her and her future husband’s first meeting in 1955—she was 14 at the time—and moves on to their secret engagement, their marriage in 1957 and the births of their two children in 1957 and 1958. With a husband in college and two small children to raise, Maryann shelved her plans to become a lawyer and took on the task of ensuring that Carver would hone his talents as a writer. Their young family, she says, was not a burden on Carver, but rather his anchor, and it does seem that she supported him for years, while the circumstances they found themselves in gave the writer material for many of his gritty, realistic stories. In Sacramento, they lived for years on the edge of poverty, she as a waitress and he in mostly menial jobs while he slowly worked his way through college. The ’60s brought Carver some recognition, but his youthful optimism was fading, as stability and economic security eluded his family. They were constantly on the move, with Carver never content and Maryann struggling to get her own college degree. She divides the ’70s portion of her memoir into three threads that defined their lives then: teaching, writing and drinking. Both drank, but for him, the drinking developed into a disease, and his writing dried up for several years. The marriage devolved into physical violence, infidelity, separation, reconciliation and divorce, in 1982. Before that decade’s end, Carver was living with the poet Tess Gallagher, later to be his second wife. (He died from cancer two months after their marriage, at the age of 50.) Writing here, his first wife coats the bad times with matter-of-fact reminiscences, relating her past more by expressions of love for her husband and admiration for his talent.

Raymond Carver fans will welcome this up-close, very personal glimpse into the life of the talented but troubled writer.

Pub Date: July 11th, 2006
ISBN: 0-312-33258-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2006


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