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Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life

4.20  ·  Rating Details  ·  524 Ratings  ·  81 Reviews
When Raymond Carver died at age fifty, readers lost a distinctive voice in its prime. Carver was, the Times of London said, "the Chekhov of middle America." His influence on a generation of writers and on the short story itself has been widely noted. Not so generally known are how Carver became a writer, how he suffered to achieve his art, and how his troubled and remarkab ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published November 9th 2010 by Scribner (first published September 8th 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,493)
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Moira Russell
This book made it a great deal more difficult for me to love Raymond Carver.

I had much the same reaction reading the other Big Biography of the season, on Cheever -- Cheever did abuse his family terribly while drinking, even to the extent of writing nasty stories about them while they were still living, just as Carver did. But at least Cheever, in his very late sobriety (seven years before he died of cancer) made it up somewhat to his children and wife, and his family now enjoy the royalties and
M. Sarki

I had stayed away up to this point in my life from the works of Raymond Carver and any study made of him. I had even discounted him a little because I had visited the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana and saw for myself the correspondence and marked-up manuscripts of Raymond Carver in his relationship to his editor Gordon Lish. The fact that Lish was also my editor and teacher made it a little bit uncomfortable for me to see this much intimacy between
Jan 03, 2010 Joshua rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this bio. Well, let me rephrase: I liked Sklenicka's involvement, appreciated her thorough research and detailed rendering of Carver's entire life. The whole book read like a well paced novel, exciting at turns, characters well developed. All in all, a very satisfying read.

But the word "liked" doesn't feel appropriate, as the reader learns in such painstaking detail that Carver was such a bastard when he drank--physically abusive and unfaithful to his wife, emotionally unavailable
Dec 19, 2009 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-bio, writing
Reading this bio of one of my favorite writers was an incredible ride. It transported me back to my own hopes and dreams of being a writer and living the "literary life." I read this alongside his recently published collected stories and essays as well as 1996's collected poems, "All of Us" and connected all the dots from his personal life to his writing. He's a true case in point of "write what you know." Ray was certainly the calm center of a nutty life. He was also a decent, generous man whos ...more
Hannah  Messler
Sep 20, 2009 Hannah Messler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I kind of feel like Blake Bailey has ruined me for all other biographers. No one comes close to what that guy does.

On the other hand, oh man, this is totally worth reading. The whole Lish debacle, man. I am glad to know more about that. And Tess, she's good, it turns out. It's so easy for me to be an uppity asshole about things I don't know anything about. Now I feel like, if I want to be an uppity ass, at least I'll know what I'm talking about. And anyway after reading all about it I don't fee
David Haws
Apr 25, 2016 David Haws rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book has been extremely well researched, but is perhaps a little partisan.

Ray was my writing instructor at Berkeley. I took four classes from him over the 1972-73 school year, but because we both commuted to campus, we would sometimes wait together for the rush-hour traffic to die down—splitting a pitcher, nursing a vodka and grapefruit juice (he claimed to need the vitamin C) playing liar’s dice, or talking about life and/or writing. I had not spent my formative years around drinkers (for m
Eric Kibler
Sep 02, 2010 Eric Kibler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I started this book, I hadn't read any of Carver's work, but had only seen Short Cuts, the film Robert Altman had made of a clutch of his stories and one poem. While reading it, I read a couple of books worth of his short stories and one book of poems.

This is the story of the redemption of a man. The son of an alcoholic, he marries Maryann Burk, the love of his life, and they have two kids. He doggedly pursues his dream of being a writer, and until the age of thirty or so, makes steady prog
Chuck O'Connor
Oct 08, 2011 Chuck O'Connor rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: John Hawkinson
Recommended to Chuck by: NA
This is an impressive piece of reportage. Cklenicka does her homework and the extensive end notes show it. The sub-title offers what the book is, "A Wrtier's LIFE" (emphasis mine), and the examination of who Carver was as a person is exhaustive (and at times exhausting). The failing of the book comes with its choice to keep Carver's artistic process and philosophy a mystery. The man comes off as an alcoholic idiot savant whose sociopathic pattern of manipulation towards dependent reliance on fri ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Feb 08, 2010 Bookmarks Magazine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mar-apr-2010
Not merely a great biography, but often an astute critical assessment of Carver's writing as well (San Francisco Chronicle), Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life breaks new ground by tying the significant events of Carver's life to his stories and then using those connections as a means of studying both the man and his work. Though the Christian Science Monitor took issue with Sklenicka's focus on the unsavory details of the author's private life, critics were generally satisfied with Sklenicka's scr ...more
Feb 09, 2010 Deborah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Despite the fact that I was unfamiliar with Raymond Carver, I found Ms. Sklenicka's biography to be a fascinating and detailed account of a troubled author. The saga of this well-known author of short stories was disturbing to me due to Carver's alcoholism and eventual decline into the depths of that disease. The only thing which kept me reading once this bottom was near was that I was aware that he eventually stopped drinking.
I lived in Northern California during the time Carver and his family
John M.
This biography is well-written, comprehensive (to say the least) and a great tribute to the life of Raymond Carver. Carver is one of the authors that I read and re-read again and again over the years, and it won't be long before I read this biography again. I'm glad that Sklenicka wrote this book, and I believe this is a fitting tribute to Carver's life. It's well researched and reveals a lot about a man we really only know through his short stories. Along with Maryann Burk Carver's book about h ...more
Robert Vaughan
Gross and intense look at the inspiring life of short story writer Ray Carver, one of my many mentors. This is such a painful book to read, only because of the choices Ray Carver made while he attempted to be a writer, husband, father. The family scrimped along on a near poverty level and yet his writing sings still to this day.
mitch h
Mar 21, 2014 mitch h rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-reviewed
Raymond Carver: A Writers Life, by Carol Sklenicka does a beautiful job illuminating Carver’s complicated, heartbreaking and ultimately triumphant literary journey. Sklenicka conducts hundreds of hours of research and interviews with many of Carver’s friends and family members to piece together stories about his life. This book was a truly immersive experience for me. I ploughed through all of it in less than a week and it was one of the best literary biographies I’ve ever read.

Carver was a com
Dec 27, 2009 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a compelling must-have for Carver fans and fans of short fiction in general. Sklenicka's documentation is immense and I felt spellbound by her book. I came away both admiring Carver's creativity more and admiring especially his first wife Maryann Carver for the raw deal she got after devoting so many years, and sacrificing her own life, to Carver's success. She was a smart, gifted woman and so many of his stories are her stories too. I can imagine the pain involved in being the muse that ...more
Guy Salvidge
Mar 17, 2013 Guy Salvidge rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fine biography of a famous writer I've only just started reading. Not knowing much at all about Carver's life, I read with interest about his impoverished upbringing and meteoric rise to fame in what proved to be the last decade of his life. What stands out for me here is what a shithead Carver was for most of the time, especially to his family and especially to his long-suffering first wife, Maryann. Carver seems to have spent twenty years or so on a long bender, and when he finally d ...more
Jan 13, 2014 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If the generation just before them was "the greatest", those born in the 1930s were something different entirely. They were caught between the nobility of those who fought in WW II, and those who gained freedom of some sort coming of age when social mores were coming loose. Their parents, suffering a life-long hangover from the Great Depression, were distant and abusive. Their life was clothes made out on a bed -- marry the first person you have sex with, have kids, work somewhere until you stic ...more
Catherine Woodman
This is not a biography that tears up the page--it has a kind of plodding pedantic style (which may very well reflect the author's life, but was not a page turner to read, if you know what I mean). Caver comes from humble beginnings, and is inspired by his father to tell stories--his father tells them orally and he wants to be a writer, but that is the tradition that he is coming from--poetry and the short story become his form. The tale of his marriage, followed by what happened afterward is on ...more
Andrew Sydlik
Aug 16, 2010 Andrew Sydlik rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Don’t have time for an in-depth review, but I enjoyed this biography of Carver. I would recommend, however, tracking down Stephen King’s review of the book in the New York Times Book Review, November 2009, for an interesting supplement. King remarks upon the fact that Sklenicka is nonjudgmental in her portrayal of Carver, perhaps downplaying his nastiness and selfishness. I both agree and disagree with King. If I remember correctly, he doesn’t necessarily bring to light anything that was not act ...more
James Murphy
Sep 29, 2011 James Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Raymond Carver said his stories and poems were always about the "he-she of human relationships." The story of his own life as Carol Sklenicka tells it in this rich biography largely fits into that mold. All his romantic relationships were a little volatile at least, especially with the wife he married young, Maryann. Relations with his children were stormy as well. Not until he began living and working with the poet Tess Gallagher, who he married near the end of his life, did he find any true em ...more
All art mirrors life to a certain extent, but to what degree is examining an author’s life and experiences crucial to gaining insight into their work? In the case of Raymond Carver, who drew directly from his life for writing material, having the details of this life/literature correlative thoroughly hashed out—thanks to Carol Sklenicka’s exhaustive research—makes for engaging reading. However, far more insightful is being able to bear witness to the sacrifices Carver and his family (particularl ...more
Jul 05, 2015 Smoothw rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First thing to know-Raymond Carver was definitely a bit of a shithead. It is to Carol Sklenicka's credit that she can thoroughly document his shitheadedness- the continual uprooting of his family without a clear plan about how to achieve success of a writer, his descent into terminal alcoholism with some physical abuse along the way,his essay blaming everyone but himself for why he couldn't be more productive, and cutting out his first family of all but a pittance in his will after having succes ...more
Jan 11, 2010 Seth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-all
I totally loved this book. Ate it up with a fork and knife! I am an unabashed 110% Ray Carver fan from way back (to me) and this book did a great job of reminding me why, filling in the holes in his history and editing relationship with Gordon Lish, and so much more.
Recommend it so highly!
Dave N
Jul 18, 2016 Dave N rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really in-depth, compelling biography, that should be any fan of Carver's companion as they explore his short stories. So much of his family life fed his work that I don't know how I ever read his stories without better understanding his past. Sklenicka's writing is clear and concise without leaving the reader feeling like anything has been left out. There were a few instances where information, particularly information about close friends of the Carvers, appeared intentionally obscured, but n ...more
Daniel Montero
Jul 13, 2012 Daniel Montero rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Great biography. I haven't read any Carver in years, but this is a really gripping story and now I think I'll return to his stories which so ignited me at one time,
TC Jones
Jan 17, 2016 TC Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come."
Dec 05, 2014 Charlene rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To know the poet, the fiction writer, is to connect with his poetry and short stories.
Feb 12, 2013 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bill Roden
One of my favorite books ever.
Feb 02, 2010 Michael rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, paging through reviews, I see that Carol Sklenicka (on GoodReads) gives it five stars! Well, whaddya know.

I give this two stars under the GoodReads logic, not the quality of the book but whether one likes it or not. "It was OK" is pretty accurate as to my reaction. (Obviously a monumental amount of effort went into this book, but that doesn't mean it is all that enjoyable to read.)

I wanted to get this book because I misunderstood from a review that it provided more of a side-by-side compa
Joan Colby
Apr 18, 2012 Joan Colby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s clear that without the unflagging support of his first wife, Maryann, Carver might never have achieved success as a writer. Married in their teens and quickly the parents of two children, both Carver and his wife had ambition and pursued educational goals which were often interrupted by the need to make a living, which largely fell on Maryann’s shoulders. She toiled at menial jobs such as waitressing for years until she finished her degree and was able to get teaching jobs,. Carver vacillat ...more
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Carol Sklenicka grew up in central California in the 1960s. She attended college in San Luis Obispo, California, and graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, where she studied with Stanley Elkin, Naomi Lebowitz, and Howard Nemerov. Her stories, essays, and reviews are widely published. She spent more than ten years researching and writing the first full-length biography of Raymond Ca ...more
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