Today the Times‘s book review asks Stephen King to review the new biography of utter wretch/mad alcoholic Raymond Carver, who, after taking Carver to task for being such an utter wretch of a mad alcoholic (at a party, he reportedly smashed a wine bottle over the head of his first wife—who seems to have supported him throughout most of his early career—when he thought she was being flirtatious), has much more ire to throw at Carver’s legendary editor, Gordon Lish (pictured at left in, strangely, a photograph attributed to William F. Buckley, Jr.):
[I]n 1973, when my first novel was accepted for publication, I was in similar straits: young, endlessly drunk, trying to support a wife and two children, writing at night, hoping for a break. The break came, but until reading [this] book, I thought it was the $2,500 advance Doubleday paid for “Carrie.” Now I realize it may have been not winding up with Gordon Lish as my editor.
Burn! I’m not a Carver fan, and but this may be mostly a reaction against the morass of it and its predecessors I’ve had to swim through in a creative writing program. And but also I’m if not a Gordon Lish fan than a fan at least of some Gordon Lish disciples/associates (Christine Schutt, Gary Lutz, Leanord Michaels, Barry Hannah—if I’m not being too presumptive about any of these folks). I wonder whether reading the newly restored “author’s cut” of Beginners, Carver’s original title for the Lish-usurped What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, would restore some admiration I could have in the writer.
Then again, I’m reluctant, perhaps overly so, to admire writers who can’t help themselves from drinking too much and then terrorizing the people they decided to marry and to bring into this world. Then again, I admire John Cheever.