Monday, December 03, 2007

Whose Carver?

James Campbell considers the planned re-issue of Carver's collection What We talk About When We Talk About Love (with Carver's original title Beginners), in the light of the comparative endings of the story One More Thing which have now been made available. It's clear that Gordon Lish's so-called 'edit' amounted to a breathtaking rewrite which, as Campbell says, changed utterly the character of the protagonist, turning him away from verbosity and towards the taciturnity we have come to associate with both Carver's characters and his prose. The Lish treatment gives the story that resonant and ambiguous combination of full stop yet lack of closure which is common to Carver's stories as published, but which is missing from the original version of this one.

Campbell points out one factor which will make any well-known author with similar plans of redress quail: it matters not a jot which version is better; in the most significant sense, the well-known versions of an author's characters (and his or her prose) no longer belong to him, his executors or his publishers. They are emotionally owned by the reading public, and it is therefore the well-known versions which are most likely to survive.
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