Sunday, October 02, 2016
"Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life"
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Ray Carver's first book of short stories, "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" ($15.95 in paperback from Vintage; also for Amazon Kindle). The title story owes a great debt to Carver's experience in the northstate.
That experience is recounted in "Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life" ($33.99 in paperback from Scribner; also for Amazon Kindle), by Carol Sklenicka, specifically in a chapter entitled "Furious Years."
Carver and his family at first moved to a small house on Roe Road in Paradise. He started Chico State College in 1958 "and found a weekend clerking job at Terrace Pharmacy."
Sklenicka writes that "a new professor that year whom Ray admired was Dr. Lennis Dunlap" who "found the English Department 'entirely dead.' … By the time Ray reached legal drinking age on May 25, 1959" the family moved to Chico. A Dr. John Gardner, who would become a best-selling novelist, had been hired to take over the creative writing course.
Gardner "inculcated in him the desire to write literature; he had also shown him the near impossibility of earning a living by such writing."
Carver's story, "Will You Please Be Quite, Please?" chronicles the domestic life of Marian and Ralph Wyman. "They did their student teaching at the same high school in Chico in the spring and went through graduation exercises together in June." They were a happy couple, except Ralph "had taken it into his head that his wife had once betrayed him. …" And therein lies the stuff of emotional unraveling.
Carver's alcoholism nearly killed him. His own marriage unraveled. But in later years he mostly walked away from the bottle and toward poet Tess Gallagher, establishing a certain stability and even celebration of his accomplishments.
"'I don't know what I want, but I want it now,' Carver wrote in a pocket notebook. Perhaps a writer never knows exactly what he wants, but Carver had followed his impatience and yearning where it led him, into some very dark places, and then beyond, toward that elusive goal he'd glimpsed in his youth--a writer's life."
Carver died of lung cancer in 1988. He was fifty.