Chuck O'Connor's Reviews > Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life

Raymond Carver by Carol Sklenicka
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's review
Oct 08, 11

liked it
Recommended to Chuck by: NA
Recommended for: John Hawkinson
Read from October 03 to 06, 2011 — I own a copy , read count: 1

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 friends, his wife, and editors makes Gordon Lish's apocryphal assertion that Lish "created" Carver plausible. But the actions Carver takes and the success he has as an author and teacher contradicts the inference that he was channeling a muse towards automatic writing. I'd have liked this book more if the author would have given illustration into the passion Carver had for his craft, both as a writer and reader of fiction, with an eye to the author's process. We get many stories of his self-destruction through alcoholism and his slow decline to cancer, where friends and former students assert Carver's attention to detail in writing and his coherent explanations of why literature is great, but we don't get a sense of the process the man had beyond these generalized descriptions. I'd have liked to know through a critical look with comparison and contrast of Carver to his heroes how Carver advanced the work that inspired him with the unique insight that made his stories great. I think the choice to keep the inner life of Carver distant is intentional, and I have a theory that Sklenicka chose this perspective to mirror the observational irony Carver employed in his fiction. We get clues to the man's ideas through chapter epigraphs born from snatches of writing he adored enough to transcribe in his notebooks, but we never get a clear critical commentary on the meta-cognition these snatches made towards Carver's philology. The unfortunate consequence of Sklenicka's choice to mirror her author's commitment to unsentimental observation leads to a dry exposition of the man's art. I wanted more insight into Carver's view of reality and didn't get it, but the biography did motivate me to pick up "Cathedral" and read, so maybe Sklenicka's intention was fulfilled with my willingness to return to Carver as a source.
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