Taylor's Reviews > What It Used to Be Like: A Portrait of My Marriage to Raymond Carver

What It Used to Be Like by Maryann Burk Carver
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's review
Jul 26, 2007

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bookshelves: non-fiction, own, real-people, just-like-a-woman, the-power-of-love, wheres-the-bar, women-writers, golden-years, its-a-family-affair, hidden-gems, not-by-a-white-guy, emotional-gut-punch, writing-about-writers
Recommended for: writers, drinkers, ray carver fans, ray carver haters, women who find themselves prone to sacrifice.
Read in August, 2007

This is an absolutely fascinating look into Raymond Carver's life, as well as a fascinating portrait about how people convince themselves to stay in relationships that don't really work.

Raymond Carver and Maryann Burk met when they were about 16 and 19. They kept a relationship, a large part of it long distance, then got married when she was just out of high school (or, rather, a college prep. school).

She got pregnant very quickly and then got pregnant again quickly after her first child. It's clear rather early on that this put a lot of strain on their relationship, both emotionally and economically. When her period is a few days late and she things she's pregnant once more, Ray's reaction is something along the lines of "I'm going to pack my suitcase... I'll unpack it when your period comes." OUCH.

Maryann was constantly forfeiting what she wanted (an education) in order to keep his writing at the forefront, to allow him to get the education that he wanted. It's incredibly heartbreaking how often she supported the family on her own, was willing to turn away from school when he asked her to.

Perhaps even more surprising is how often they moved - I seriously lost track of how many cities, houses they lived in. It feels like more often than not, they were running away, though some moves were justified through a need to have a closer proximity to a certain school, but still... I would imagine it was hard to keep things steady when you're in as constant of a station of motion as these two were. and I LOVE to travel, love the idea of a new start, but this was overboard for even me.

What perhaps most frightening is that she stayed with him through his period of immense alcoholism and beating her (which came after his first time cheating on her). She didn't decide to leave him until he had cleaned himself up and got his career and writing back on track (even he was befuddled), then seemed bound to cheat once more at any point in time. Everyone's last straw comes at a different time, for a different reason, but holy shit.

It makes me feel very conflicted - I tip my hat to her for doing what she thought was right, standing behind a man she really, really loved, but at the same time, I'm sad for all that she lost and could've possibly had. Although, one of the quotes on the cover says "two writers living for one career," and I can't say that she was such a fantastic writer that I thought she could've been incredibly successful. What kept me going through this book had less to do with her writing and more to do with the stories behind it. I like hearing the real life events that inspired certain stories, especially because it opens them up to a whole different degree.

WOWIE, though, this book kind of made me hate men for awhile.
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message 1: by Maryann (new)

Maryann I did get an education...in more ways than one.
Maryann Carver

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