Beginners, by Raymond Carver, Vintage RRP£7.99, 212 pages
Three decades ago, Raymond Carver published What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, a seminal collection of short stories that cemented his reputation for dirty realism. His editor Gordon Lish, however, savagely cut Carver’s prose almost in half; Beginners is the posthumous reissue of the original tales.
The surprise is that in spite of Carver’s well-earned reputation for spare, grainy prose that dipped into the hard-bitten lives of his yearning characters, these stories have a richness of texture that complements Carver’s austerity of tone. Lish seems to have flattened Carver’s style, rather than sharpening it, and the tales in Beginners demonstrate just how great a writer Carver was – particularly in his ability to pick out the coherent rambles of the emotionally bereft and resolutely inebriated.
“There was more, she knew that, but she couldn’t get it into words,” one story ends, and Carver’s elegant skill lies in giving sympathetic form and content to that stumbling inarticulacy.