RAYMOND CARVER Biography - Writers

 
 

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RAYMOND CARVER

In life, art, and even death, Raymond Carverís double, mentor, and companion                                 
soul was Anton Chekhov. Like Chekhov (1860-1904), whose grandfather bought                                   
himself out of serfdom and whose fatherís grocery shop went broke, Carver was a                             
child of the working poor. His father, Clevie Raymond Carver ("C.R."), rode the                             
rails from Arkansas to Washington state during the dust-bowl days of the 1930s.                             
C.R. became a saw filer in the lumber mills Ė and an alcoholic who was dead at                               
fifty-three. His wife, Ella Casey Carver, was no stranger to domestic violence,                             
and she supplemented the family income by working as a waitress and retail clerk.                           
Raymond Clevie Carver, nicknamed Junior, Frog, and Doc, was born on 25 May 1938                             
in Clatskanie, Oregon, a logging town of seven hundred on the Columbia river.                               
The family returned to Washington in 1941, and Carver grew up in Yakima, a hub                               
town of twenty thousand in "The Nationís Fruit Bowl," the fertile valley east of                             
the Cascades.                                                                                               
                                                                                                             
Carver was a belated child of the Great Depression, and well into times of                                   
postwar prosperity his house lacked an indoor toilet. His poem "Shiftless" (1986)                           
lays out the economics of his childhood: "The people who were better off than us                             
were comfortable . . . . / The ones worse off were sorry and didnít work." Like                             
Chekhov, Carver knew intimately the marginal lives of hardship and squalor from                             
which he crafted luminous stories of empathy, endangerment, and hard-won                                     
affirmation. "Theyíre my people," he said years later of the inarticulate                                   
laborers and service workers who form his submerged population. "I could never                               
write down to them."                                                                                         
                                                                                                             
Before Chekhov, there were fables, tales, and sketches. But there were no short                             
stories, no "plotless" evocations of human subjectivity on the threshold of                                 
perception. Chekhov created the modern story in the 1880s, partly out of                                     
journalistic necessity, by fussing realistic detail and romantic lyricism. The                               
result was a lambent mode of fabulation that teases out the mysteries of "normal"                           
life. In stories such as "Misery" (1886), "Anyuta" (1886), and "The Kiss" (1887),                           
the Chekhovian moment, albeit half-grasped and fleeting, encapsulates a soul.                               
Chekhovís restrained yet resonant manner became standard practice for twentieth-century                     
storytellers, including Carverís American mentors Sherwood Anderson, Ernest                                 
Hemingway, and John Cheever. By the late 1960s, however, nonmimetic, formally                               
experimental "superfiction" had become the favored mode of the literary avant-garde.                         
Realistic stories, like the "totalizing" novel, had been declared outmoded, if                               
not obsolete.                                                                                               
                                                                                                             
During these same years, in the backwaters of Washington and Northern California,                           
Raymond Carver had married at nineteen and fathered two children by the time he                             
was twenty. Juggling "crap jobs," fatherhood, and eventually "full-time drinking                             
as a serious pursuit," he eked out time to write. "Get in, get out. Donít linger.                           
Go on," were the bywords of his life. Of necessity, they shaped his art. "I                                 
needed to write something I could get some kind of payment from immediately," he                             
later said. "Hence, poems and stories."                                                                     
                                                                                                             
Chekhov would have understood. At nineteen he had moved from provincial Taganrog                             
to Moscow and taken charge of his impecunious family. Although a full-time                                   
medical student, "Papa Antosha" earned much-needed cash by writing dry-humored                               
sketches for mass-market weeklies. In a letter of 10 May 1886 he ticked off                                 
guidelines for what small-minded critics a century later would call "minimal"                               
fiction: "(1) no politico-economico-social verbal effusions; (2) objectivity                                 
throughout; (3) truth in the description of characters and things; (4) extreme                               
brevity; (5) audacity and originality-eschew clichťs; (6) warm-heartedness."                                 
Working under similar conditions of "unrelieved responsibility and permanent                                 
distraction," Carver found Chekhovís precepts congenial, and during the 1960s                               
and 1970s he reinvented short fiction along Chekhovian lines. In the process he                             
laid the groundwork for a realist revival in the 1980s. "In a literary sense,"                               
novelist Douglas Unger said shortly after Carverís death, "his story exists as a                             
kind of model of the resurrection of the short story."                                                       
                                                                                                             
Few would dispute Carverís claim that Chekhov was "the greatest short-story                                 
writer who ever lived." Nor would many question Charles Mayís judgment, voiced                               
in A Chekhov Companion (1985) that the most Chekhovian of contemporary writers                               
was Raymond Carver. As artists and as men, the two led parallel lives.                                       
Tragically, the parallels converged during 1988, as Carver followed Chekhov in                               
succumbing, far too early, to an illness emblematic of his age. In Chekhovís                                 
case the malady was tuberculosis, which claimed his life at forty-four. In                                   
Carverís instance it was lung cancer. The writer who once described himself as "a                           
cigarette with a body attached to it" died on 2 August, two months past his                                 
fiftieth birthday. Two years earlier novelist Robert Stone had called Carver "the                           
best American short-story writer since Hemingway." Speaking at Carverís memorial                             
service in New York City on 22 September, he offered a higher compliment.                                   
Borrowing a line from his own essay on Chekhov, Stone termed Carver "a hero of                               
perception."                                                                                                 
                                                                                                             
Throughout his writing life, first in poems, later in essays, and always in his                             
fiction, Carver kept in contact with his Russian mentor. In the title poem of                               
his second book, Winter Insomnia (1970), for example, he called on Chekhov to                               
prescribe him "three drops of valerian, a glass / Of rose water-anything," to                               
calm his frazzled nerves. In an essay, "On Writing," collected in Fires (1983),                             
he praised the "simple clarity" of Chekhovís moral awakenings: abrupt, often                                 
negative epiphanies signaled by phrases such as "and suddenly everything became                             
clear to him." The same phrase appears, all but verbatim, in Carverís story "The                             
Pheasant," collected in the same book.                                                                       
                                                                                                             
Surely Carverís boldest tribute to Chekhov came in "Errand," a prize-winning                                 
story that also proved to be his last work of fiction. "Errand" begins in                                   
biography, with an artfully telescoped account of Chekhovís final months,                                   
culminating in his drinking a glass of champagne minutes before dying in                                     
Badenweiler, a spa in the Black Forest. The hard facts told, the story continues                             
as Chekhovian fiction. With mounting lyricism Carver recounts the "human                                     
business" attendant upon Chekhovís death. After a night long vigil Chekhovís                                 
widow instructs a young bellman to locate a proper mortician. Respectful if half-comprehending,             
he listens as she outlines his errand. Before leaving, however, the young man                               
bends, discreetly, to retrieve the champagne bottleís fallen cork. This gesture,                             
at once honorable and unremarked, brings the story to a faultless Chekhovian                                 
close.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                             
"Errand" appeared in the 1 June 1987 New Yorker. The following spring it won the                             
O. Henry Award and appeared in Prize Stories 1988. During the same period,                                   
however, Carverís life imitated his art Ė with fatal consequences. In September                             
he found himself spitting blood. In October two-thirds of his left lung was                                 
removed. Over the next nine months, as Carver waged a brave but losing battle                               
against cancer, Chekhov became his ghostly double. "When hope is gone," he wrote                             
in his journal, "the ultimate sanity is to grasp at straws." Chekhov too had                                 
grasped at straws, boasting less than a month before his death that he was "beginning                       
to grow stout." By March 1988 the cancer had spread to Carverís brain. Before                               
beginning radiation therapy, he wrote a meditation on Chekhovís "Ward No. 6" (1892).                         
Explicating a patch of dialogue between the disaffected doctor, Andrey Yefinitch,                           
he noted how even in Chekhovís godforsaken madhouse "a little voice in the soul"                             
arises, urging "belief of an admittedly fragile but insistent nature."                                       
                                                                                                             
Carverís fiftieth birthday was fast approaching, and in May he received a host                               
of accolades. These included a Brandeis University creative arts citation, an                               
honorary doctor of letters degree from the University of Hartford, and induction                             
into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. It was also in May                             
that Where Iím Calling From, a collection of his new and selected stories, was                               
published by Atlantic Monthly Press. (Elephant, containing his seven latest                                 
fictions, followed in England on 4 July.) Where Iím Calling From received                                   
glowing notices from coast to coast, including front-page coverage in the New                               
York Times Book Review. More important, the retrospective occasion prompted                                 
critics to reassess Carverís career and reputation. Although widely acknowledged                             
as "one of the great short-story writers of our time," he had been tagged a "minimalist,"                   
a dismissive label untrue to the spirit of his work. Packed with thirty-seven                               
stories written over twenty-five years, Where Iím Calling From gave Carverís so-called                       
minimalism the lie. "Carver has not been a minimalist but a precisionist," David                             
Lipsky wrote in the National Review (5 August 1988). Reviewers for the                                       
Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Times Literary Supplement                             
concurred. "It goes without saying that Carver is a master," Roger K. Anderson                               
observed in the 19 June 1988 Houston Chronicle. "But now a new generosity of                                 
spirit is unmistakable. Achieving this may be the keystone of his career Ė a new                             
level of tranquillity."                                                                                     
                                                                                                             
In June the cancer reappeared in Carverís lungs. As he acknowledged in a poem                               
entitled "What the Doctor Said," the diagnosis was a death sentence. Given a                                 
similar verdict, three years before his death Chekhov had responded by marrying                             
the actress Olga Knipper. (The wedding date, duly noted in "Errand," was 25 May,                             
Carverís birthday." Outdoing his mentor in audacity, on 17 June Carver married                               
his companion and collaborator of the past ten years, the writer Tess Gallagher.                             
The wedding took place in Nevada, in the Heart of Reno Chapel, and Carver                                   
described it with gusto as a "high tacky affair." True to the tragicomic                                     
occasion, Gallagher went on to a three-day winning streak at roulette.                                       
                                                                                                             
Returning to Port Angeles, Washington, their home of the past five years, Carver                             
and Gallagher hurried to assemble his last book of poetry, A New Path to the                                 
Waterfall (1989). In this unusual collection, Carverís verses speak in dialogue                             
with work by other poets Ė and with prose poems gleaned from Chekhovís fiction.                             
Together, the two "companion souls" make a "last, most astounding trip" that                                 
recapitulates a life lived prodigally but well. Reprinting a number of his early                             
poems, Carver recalls the heady but numbered days of his youthful marriage. He                               
revisits his parentsí kitchen, catching a glimpse of his father in an adulterous                             
embrace. Invoking Czeslaw Miloszís "Return to Krakow in 1880," he questions the                             
value of his work: "To win? / To lose? / What for, if the world will forget us                               
anyway." In poems of searing candor, he struggles to say "what really happened"                             
to his loved ones and to him. Finally, in the closing pages, he confronts the "stupendous                   
grief" of his impending death. The life journey ends in the Chekhovian twilight                             
of "Afterglow," a portrait of the artist mugging for the camera, his cigarette                               
at a "jaunty slant." The bookís coda, "Late Fragment," voices Carverís hard-won                             
self-acceptance:                                                                                             
                                                                                                             
And did you get what                                                                                         
you wanted from this life, even so?                                                                         
I did.                                                                                                       
And what did you want?                                                                                       
To call myself beloved, to feel myself                                                                       
beloved on the earth.                                                                                       
                                                                                                             
The manuscript completed, Carver and Gallagher made a fishing trip to Alaska and                             
planned a "dream visit" to Moscow. "Iíll get there before you," he joked while                               
in the hospital. "Iím traveling faster." Released into his wifeís care, Carver                               
spent the last afternoon of his life on the porch of his newly built house,                                 
overlooking his roses. That evening he and Gallagher watched the movie Dark Eyes                             
(1987), Nikita Mikhalhovís Chekhovian pastiche. At 6:20 the next morning Carver                             
died in his sleep. Without revealing the urgency of his condition, during the                               
last months of his life Carver told interviewers what he hoped might be his                                 
epitaph. "I canít think of anything else Iíd rather be called than a writer," he                             
said, "unless itís a poet. Short-story writer, poet, occasional essayist." After                             
family services on 4 August he was buried in the Ocean View Cemetery in Port                                 
Angeles. The grave overlooks the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the deep blue channel                               
that Carver had plied in his boat and celebrated in three books of poetry, Where                             
Water Comes Together With Other Water (1985), Ultramarine (1986), and In a                                   
Marine Light (1987). On Sunday, 7 August, the London Times combined a front-page                             
review of Elephant with a hastily drafted obituary. Raymond Carver had reveled "the                         
strangeness concealed behind the banal," affirmed "the individuality that                                   
survives mass-produced goods and look-alike lifestyles," and extracted "a poetry                             
out of the prosaic," wrote Peter Kemp. The title of his article was "The                                     
American Chekhov."                                                                                           
                                                                                                             
As his uncanny kinship with Chekhov suggested, there was about Raymond Carver an                             
abiding doubleness. "I really do feel Iíve had two different lives," he told the                             
Paris Review in 1983. The "line of demarcation" was 2 June 1977, the day that                               
after ten years of progressive alcoholism Carver had stopped drinking. The                                   
changeover was, in his view, nothing short of miraculous. "Toward the end of my                             
drinking career I was completely out of control and in a very grave place," he                               
recalled. By his thirty-ninth year alcohol had shattered his health, his work,                               
and his family. (He and his first wife, the former Maryann Burk, separated in                               
the summer of 1978 and were divorced in October 1982.) What followed over the                               
next ten years was, in the words of a poem that appeared in the New Yorker a few                             
weeks after Carverís death, "Pure gravy."                                                                   
                                                                                                             
At a writers conference in Dallas in November 1977, Carver, still new to                                     
sobriety, had met Tess Gallagher, a poet who like himself was a native of the                               
Pacific Northwest, the child of an alcoholic father, and a survivor of a broken                             
marriage. Nine months later the two met again in El Paso, where Carver was a                                 
visiting distinguished writer at the University of Texas. After a Chekhovian                                 
courtship, including a date during which Gallagher nervously tore an earring                                 
through her lobe, the two became housemates. First in El Paso and Tucson; then                               
in Syracuse, New York (where both taught at Syracuse University); and finally in                             
Gallagherís hometown of Port Angeles, Carver and Gallagher lived and worked                                 
together. The two writers became each otherís first readers. When their books                               
appeared Ė some twenty-five between them over the next ten years Ė they became                               
each otherís dedicatees. Eventually, they became coauthors, sharing credit for                               
Dostoevsky: A Screenplay (1985). As mutual influences, each pointed the other in                             
new directions. Established as a poet, Gallagher produced a collection of                                   
stories, The Lover of Horses (1986). Carver, who had made his mark in prose,                                 
brought out book after book of verse and received Poetry magazineís Levinson                                 
Prize in 1985. "This second life had been very full, very rewarding," he told an                             
interviewer in 1986, "and for that Iíll be eternally grateful."                                             
                                                                                                             
Carverís gratitude spilled over from his life into his work, not only in poems                               
such as "For Tess" (1985) and "The Gift" (1986) but also in stories such as "Cathedral"                     
(1981), "If It Please You" (1981), and "A Small, Good Thing" (1982). During the                             
1980s his once spare, skeptical fiction became increasingly expansive and                                   
affirmative Ė in Mona Simpsonís phrase, "more generous." In Fires he restored to                             
original length several of the stories he had shortened for his so-called "minimalist"                       
masterpiece, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981). True to its                                 
title, Cathedral (1983) explored the transcendental dimensions of everyday                                   
experience, much in the manner of Chekhovís quietly religious stories "Easter                               
Eve" (1886) and "The Student" (1894). Last came the new work in Where Iím                                   
Calling From: seven stories written during the final years of Carverís life.                                 
Once again his work was changing. Stylistically, his fiction was growing longer                             
and looser, novelistic in the manner of Chekhovís late works "The Lady with the                             
Dog" (1899) and "In The Ravine" (1900). The subject matter of his stories was                               
changing, too. "Now they deal not just with husband and wife domestic                                       
relationships," he told Paris-based Frank in 1987, "but with family                                         
relationships: son and mother, or father and children." Moreover, as Carver                                 
noted in a posthumously published introduction to American Fiction 88, he had                               
grown less interested in conclusiveness than in "the tapestry of relationship                               
and event."                                                                                                 
                                                                                                             
Through it all a certain doubleness persisted. "In this second life, this post-drinking                     
life, I still retain a certain sense of pessimism," Carver said, echoing the                                 
speaker of his story "Intimacy" (1986), who likewise holds to "the dark view of                             
things." From 1984 to 1988 he and Gallagher both lived in Port Angeles, but they                             
shuttled between their two houses, his in a blue-collar neighborhood, hers in an                             
upscale development. The doubleness appeared as well in the faces Carver showed                             
the world. In the jacket photo on Ultramarine, he sports a shiny suit and looks                             
every inch the famous writer. On Where Iím Calling From, he hunches in a well-worn                           
leather jacket, his only ornament a black onyx ring. "There was always the                                   
inside and / the outside," run the opening lines of a poem in his first book,                               
Near Klamath (1968). "Part of me wanted help," says one of his characters two                               
decades later. "But there was another part." From such persistent self-divisions,                           
Carver wrought an art of haunting ambiguity.                                                                 
                                                                                                             
During what he later called his "bad Raymond days," Carver twice went bankrupt.                             
But he was efficient even in his prodigality. He packed two lives into the space                             
of less than one, insisting up to beyond his dying day that he was twice-born                               
and happy. "Donít weep for me," the speaker of "Gravy" tells his friends, "Iím a                             
lucky man." Born into unpromising circumstances, Carver made a virtue of                                     
necessity by following a pragmatic aesthetic set forth in his poem "Sunday Night."                           
(First published in 1967, it is included in A New Path to the Waterfall.) "Make                             
use of the things around you," the poet tells himself, noting the rain outside                               
his window, the cigarette between his fingers, and the sounds of a drunken woman                             
stumbling in the kitchen. "Put it all in, / Make use." Early on, Carver crossed                             
the "tell-is-as-you-see-it" poetics of William Carlos Williams with the                                     
unblushing candor of Charles Cukowski. "You are not your characters," he told an                             
interviewer in 1978, "but your characters are you." In later years he repeated                               
Rainer Maria Rilkeís dictum, "Poetry is experience." Without symbolic fanfare or                             
confessional hysteria, he invested personal experience with mystic resonance. "If                           
this sounds / like the story of a life," he says in one of his poems, "okay."                               
                                                                                                             
Carver was the son of a craftsman, and his writerly development followed the                                 
stages of a craftsmanís training. After moving his family from Yakima to                                     
Paradise, California, in 1958, he enrolled at Chico State College. There, he                                 
began an apprenticeship under the soon-to-be-famous John Gardner, the first "real                           
writer" he had ever met. "He offered me the key to his office," Carver recalled                             
in his preface to Gardnerís On Becoming a Novelist (1983). "I see that gift now                             
as a turning point." In addition, Gardner gave his student "close, line-by-line                             
criticism" and taught him a set of values that was "not negotiable." Among these                             
values were convictions that Carver held until his death. Like Gardner, whose On                             
Moral Fiction (1978) decried the "nihilism" of postmodern formalism, Carver                                 
maintained that great literature is life-connected, life-affirming, and life-changing.                       
"In the best fiction," he wrote "the central character, the hero or heroine, is                             
also the Ďmovedí character, the one to whom something happens in the story that                             
makes a difference. Something happens that changes the way that character looks                             
at himself and hence the world." Through the 1960s and 1970s he steered wide of                             
the metafictional "funhouse" erected by Barth, Barthelme and Company,                                       
concentrating instead on what he called "those basics of old-fashioned                                       
storytelling: plot, character, and action." Like Gardner and Chekhov, Carver                                 
declared himself a humanist. "Art is not self-expression," he insisted, "itís                               
communication."                                                                                             
                                                                                                             
First under Gardner, then under the mentorship of Professor Richard C. Day of                               
Humboldt State College, Carver began writing stories. The earliest of them,                                 
revised and collected in Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976) and Furious                               
Seasons and Other Stories (1977), show him testing his voice among the echoes of                             
his predecessors. His first published story, "The Furious Seasons" (Selection,                               
Winter 1960-1961), is a long-drawn experiment in Faulknerian polyphony. His next,                           
"The Father" (Toyon, Spring 1961), offers a tight-lipped Kafkian fable of fewer                             
than five hundred words. Like nearly every writer of his generation, Carver was                             
pulled into Hemingwayís orbit. In 1963, the year of his graduation from Humboldt                             
State, he vascillated between reverence and rebellion, publishing both a                                     
workmanlike Hemingway imitation, "Pastoral" (Western Humanities Review, Winter                               
1963), and a deconstructive parody, "The Aficionados" (Toyon, Spring 1963.)                                 
                                                                                                             
For Professor Day, the story that "marked" Carver as a writer was "The Hair." (First                         
published in the Spring 1963 Toyon, it is reprinted in Those Days [1987] a small-press                       
book of Carverís early writings.) Here as in "The Father," Carverís topic is a                               
young manís identity undone by a seemingly harmless irritant. Over the course of                             
an outwardly normal workday, the hair caught between Daveís teeth erodes his                                 
composure, rendering him feverish by nightfall and leaving his wife nonplussed.                             
But whereas "The Father" is brisk and impersonal, given almost wholly in                                     
dialogue, "The Hair" is leisurely and lyrical. Although Kafkaesque in its theme,                             
stylistically the story calls to mind Chekhovís early accounts of normality                                 
disrupted: "An Upheaval," for example, or "Panic Fears" (both 1886). Further                                 
experiments in the Chekhovian lyrical/objective manner followed. A pair of                                   
stories, "The Ducks" (first published as "The Night the Mill Boss Died,"                                     
Carolina Quarterly, Fall 1964), trace the nightmarish "awakenings" of,                                       
respectively, a stolid working man and a sensitive young woman, each of whom                                 
sees feelingly the awful emptiness of routinized existence.                                                 
                                                                                                             
Carver had found his register. As Michael Koepf wrote in 1981, "Thereís a                                   
Chekhovian clarity to Ray Carverís stories but a Kafkaesque sense that something                             
is terribly wrong behind the scenes." Nonetheless, throughout the 1960s Carver                               
practiced other modes and styles. He spent the academic year 1963-1964 at the                               
Iowa Writers Workshop. (Lack of funds prevented him from staying a second year                               
to complete his M.F.A. degree.) In 1966 he published in the December magazine a                             
long, Jamesian story, "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" that Martha Foley                                 
included in The Best American Short Stories 1967. He flirted with classicism ("Poseidon                     
and Company," Toyon, Spring 1963) and with fantasy ("Bright Red Apples," Gato                               
Magazine, Summer 1967). He experimented with unreliable narrators, first-person                             
retrospection in the manner of Sherwood Anderson, and Hemingwayesque regionalism.                           
                                                                                                             
"It was important for me to be a writer from the West," Carver recalled of the                               
period that led up to the publication of his first book of poems, Near Klamath,                             
by the English Club of Sacramento State College in 1968. During the middle 1960s                             
he worked as a night custodian at Mercy Hospital and sat in on classes at                                   
Sacramento State with a third mentor, poet Dennis Schmitz. What with his                                     
appearance in the respected "Foley collection," the impending publication of his                             
first book, with the death of his father, 1967 was a landmark year. Moreover, in                             
the summer of 1967 Carver accepted his first white-collar job. Moving his family                             
from the California midlands to the San Francisco suburbs, he became a textbook                             
editor at Science Research Associates (SRA) in Palo Alto. Over the next several                             
years, Carverís writing took on the coloration of his new milieu, becoming dryer                             
and more sophisticated. The change can be seen in "A Night Out" (December , 1970;                           
retitled "Signals" in Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?), a black-humored                                   
account of a feuding coupleís dinner at a glitzy restaurant. Fittingly, the                                 
final story of Carverís apprenticeship looks both backward and ahead. Published                             
in the Autumn 1970 issue of Western Humanities Review as "Cartwheels," it                                   
chronicles a city-dwellerís abortive return to the hinterland of her youth.                                 
Retitled "How About This?" in the obsessively interrogative Will You Please Be                               
Quiet, Please? (1976), it can also be counted the first work of his journey-man                             
period.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                             
By 1970 Carver had gained control of his medium and defined his "obsessions" (he                             
disliked the word theme). Following the example of Tolstoyís The Death of Ivan                               
Ilyich (1886), he had taken for his province unheroic lives, "most simple and                               
most ordinary and therefore most terrible." Drawing on Chekhov and Kafka, he had                             
focused on hypnagogic moments during which socially constituted identity totters.                           
His Jamesian donnee was marriage, in particular "a certain terrible kind of                                 
domesticity" that he termed "dis-ease." Perhaps most important, in both poetry                               
and fiction he had tapped a vein of "menace." As Marc Chenetier notes, this "motherlode                     
of threat" runs beneath the polished surface of Carverís middle work like a                                 
seismic fault.                                                                                               
                                                                                                             
Carverís apprenticeship ended abruptly in September 1970, when his job at SRA                               
was terminated. The upheaval proved to be fortunate. Thanks to severance pay,                               
unemployment benefits, and an NEA Discovery Award, for the first time in his                                 
life he could write full-time. Over the next nine months, he produced more than                             
half the stories that went into Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? In the process,                           
he began to see himself as a writer. "I discovered that if I went to my desk                                 
every day and applied myself I could seriously and steadily write stories," he                               
later said. Moreover, his fiction underwent a sea change. "Something happened                               
during that time in the writing, to the writing. It went underground and then it                             
came up again, and it was bathed in a new light for me. I was starting to chip                               
away, down to the image, then the figure itself."                                                           
                                                                                                             
It was also during this period that Carver became associated with the mentor of                             
his journey-man decade, Gordon Lish. Through the 1960s Carver had followed John                             
Gardnerís advice and published solely in "little" magazines: respected                                       
quarterlies like December that paid in copies rather than cash. Lish, formerly                               
Carverís Palo Alto neighbor, had in 1969 become fiction editor of Esquire,                                   
perhaps the "slickest" of the large-circulation magazines that paid real money.                             
Breaking with precedent, Carver sent one of his new stories, "The Neighbors," to                             
Esquire. Lish accepted it, cut the title by a word and published "Neighbors" in                             
June 1971. It was a turning point.                                                                           
                                                                                                             
"Neighbors" tells the tale of an outwardly average couple, Bill and Arlene                                   
Miller, who gradually turn the apartment of their out-of-town neighbors, the                                 
Stones, into a psychosexual rumpus room. Furtively at first, then with abandon,                             
the caretakers invade the Stonesí privacy: nipping from their liquor cabinet,                               
cross-dressing in their clothes, and unearthing snapshots that promise                                       
voyeuristic thrills. Flushed and lusty, the Millers make what promises to be a                               
climatic visit to the Stonesí apartment Ė only to find that Arlene has locked                               
the key inside. Abruptly barred from their fallen paradise, husband and wife                                 
huddle outside the door, feeling an ill wind.                                                               
                                                                                                             
Without being altogether different from Carverís earlier fiction, "Neighbors"                               
exhibits a surer control of structure, style, and audience. Carver himself                                   
allowed that it had "captured and essential sense of mystery or strangeness,"                               
which he attributed to the storyís polished style. "For it is a highly Ďstylizedí                           
story if it is anything," he noted, "and it is this that helps give it its value."                           
Textual revisions in Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? indicate that Carver                                 
developed his style under Lishís influence. "He had a wonderful eye, and eye as                             
good as John Gardnerís," Carver later said. But whereas Gardner had advised                                 
Carver to use fifteen words instead of twenty-five, Lish advocated a more                                   
radical aesthetic: the "minimalist" conviction that less is more. "Gordon                                   
believed that if you could say it in five words instead of fifteen, use five                                 
words." Under Lishís mentorship, Carverís fiction grew leaner and more laconic,                             
iceberg-like in its hidden depths. His subject matter changed as well. Editor                               
Lishís interests were "paralysis, death, family, home, the things people live                               
with, the violence that is in us," as well as "flight" from all of the above.                               
These concerns became obsessions of Carverís journeyman stories, which appeared                             
not only in the glossy pages of Esquire and Harperís Bazaar but also in a host                               
of respected quarterlies and annuals. Indeed, the titles of Lishís Esquire                                   
anthologies, The Secret Life of Our Times (1973) and All Our Secrets Are the                                 
Same (1976), suggest a leitmotif of Carverís middle work. "Youíre told time and                             
again when youíre young to write about what you know," Carver later said, "and                               
what do you know better than your own secrets?" With rare exceptions, his                                   
stories of this period end in devastating moments of exposure. "Are you there,                               
Arnold?" asks the wife of a character who has tangled his identity in a web of                               
his own masking. "You donít sound like yourself."                                                           
                                                                                                             
Surely the high point of Carverís journeyman years should have been the                                     
appearance of Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? Published in March 1976 by                                   
McGraw-Hill under its new Gordon Lish imprint, this collection of twenty-two                                 
stories was targeted to introduce an "increasingly influential" writer to a                                 
wider public. It succeeded admirably, bringing Carver a National Book Award                                 
nomination in 1977, the same year that a second collection of his stories,                                   
Furious Seasons