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Reviewed by:
Marshall Bruce Gentry and William L. Stull, eds. Conversation with Raymond Carver. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1990. 259 pp. $29.95 cloth; pb. $14.95.

When I heard the news that Ray Carver had died, in August 1988, I was living temporarily in a cabin on the Olympic Peninsula not far from his home. I felt the loss, for readers everywhere, but also I felt I had cheated myself by never hearing him read or lecture. Oh, I had heard a few Carverisms along the way; my favorite was a kindly Carver saying to a student who had written a bad story, "It's a good thing you got that one behind you." But I had never felt the force of the man in person, although I had long admired the work. This collection of interviews helped assuage that loss for me.

Ted Solotaroff has written a beautiful essay, "Going Through the Pain," in which he states, (Carver's) "rockbottom honesty was electrifying; it generated the power and light in his stories." That same rockbottom honesty is evident in the interviews. Here we have Carver delivering the goods on himself, the often repeated stories of his addiction and recovery from that addiction. Philip Roth has said, "Writers can have no shame." Ray Carver had no shame; he had the strength and courage to confront himself and to write about it, to metamorphose the terrifying pain in his life into art.

We learn of the love in the man, for his friends, for Chekhov, for his characters, for the finetuning process of writing. "It's something I love to do, putting words in and taking words out."

For students, who wonder or should wonder, how a body of work or a particular story came into being, this book can be enlightening. It is laced with Carver's tenets of writing. [End Page 270]

From Pound, "Fundamental accuracy of statement is the one sole morality of writing."

And Carver's own words, "Ideally a story chooses you, the image comes and then the emotional frame. You don't have a choice about writing a story."

"There's no chit-chat in my stories. Everything said is for a reason and adds, I want to think, to the overall impression of the story."

And from Chekhov, "You don't have to solve a problem in a story, you just have to present the problem accurately."

Rilke, in a letter, wrote, "All that the rest forget in order to make their lives possible, we are always bent on discovering, on magnifying, even; it is we who are the real awakeners of our monsters, to which we are not hostile enough to become their conquerers; for in a certain sense we are at one with them . . . it is not for us to consider ourselves the tamers of our internal lions. But suddenly we feel ourselves walking beside them, as in a Triumph, without being able to remember the exact moment when this inconceivable reconciliation took place." Ray Carver walked with his lions. That shines through on every page of this rich collection of interviews, a gift for the literary world.

Patricia Henley
Purdue University


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pp. 270-271
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