In the spring of 1990, a friend suggested if I liked J.D. Salinger, I should read Raymond Carver. It would seem this recommendation and my subsequent falling in love with Carver’s style would come a bit too late. My “discovery” of him came two years after his death. I read everything by Carver I could find. I even turned down plans with friends to stay home and read his stories.
Years later, the controversy of Carver and his editor, Gordon Lish, became public and many voiced their thoughts on the process of such heavy editing of a writer’s work. I felt strangely betrayed. I wondered if I had read more Lish than Carver in all those stories. Yet, when I read what Tess Gallagher gave to The New Yorker as the first draft of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” which Carver had titled “Beginners,” I could honestly say the story was better for the editing. I also found it intriguing an editor would suggest a longer title.
In 2009, it was because of this controversy I met my future editor and publisher, Carter Monroe. A question was raised about it on a writer’s board and I asked him how he felt about it. After many in-depth discussions on the editing of Carver by Lish and the nature of editing in general, we began our own process. I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned and continue to learn about writing.
So this year when Carter said I needed to read Ray by Barry Hannah, I listened. I found it interesting Hannah had also worked with Gordon Lish. While reading Ray, a part of me wondered if Lish had done heavy editing on the short novel. Perhaps we’ll never know, but my feeling is the voice in Ray is so strong and surprising- like a whirling dervish spinning you into unsuspected territory- it must be authentic.
The narrator, Dr. Ray, takes us through a journey of experiences and relationships in a succinct whirlwind of a lifetime in 128 pages. Hannah finds the comedy and tragedy of our humanity and unabashedly reveals it with a delivery of hope. While it is a perfect and complete work, it has us asking for more time, much like life itself.
As with Carver, it seems I am once again “finding” an author two years after his demise. Although Carver and Hannah are no longer with us, their body of work is eternal.