Joshua's Reviews > Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life

Raymond Carver by Carol Sklenicka
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's review
Jan 03, 2010

really liked it
Read in January, 2010

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 to his family, unable to hold a job.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad he got sober and repaired some of those relationships; I'm glad that he wrote beautiful, thoughtful stories that changed the scope of the American short story. But at the end of the day, it's a very sad biography, a cautionary tale. Is it worth becoming a brilliant writer at the expense of your own humanity? Should your artistic goals supersede your familial relationships?

I love Carver's writing and teach many of his stories, and I'll continue to admire him as a wordsmith, but it's always a tough reminder when those you emulate on the page fail so gloriously in their personal lives. It's important to remember that two things can be equally true: Carver was a brilliant writer, yes, but he also crossed boundaries, especially in terms of violence against women, that are unforgivable.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Babiak Excellent and humane review, Joshua. Thanks.

message 2: by Julie (new)

Julie I second Wendy's comment. This is what I've struggled with as a great fan of Carver's writing. It's hard to separate the man from the written word, at times.

Andrew Sydlik I'm not finished with this yet (page 293) but think my review would sound pretty similar. It's unsettling to hear the horrid details of Carver's behavior--his treatment of Maryann, his animosity towards his children. Unfortunately, it seems that most great writers--at least the ones I like--were either horrible people (Carver) or mentally tormented (Kafka).

Well, maybe Chekhov is one great writer who can be respected on a personal level.

message 4: by Tiffany (new) - added it

Tiffany It makes me sad. I love Carver. My work reeks Carver-esque simplicity, to my disdain. To know he was such a bastard is disheartening.

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