Reading Matters: Minimalism 1 – Carver

Scissors, a novel by the French author, Stéphane Michaka, is a strange and original hybrid: part homage, part literary ventriloquism, part biography. Four characters: Raymond, a struggling short story writer; Douglas, a literary editor; Raymonds’ wife, Marianne, and the poet for whom he leaves his wife, Joanne.

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You don’t need a key or a great deal of pre-knowledge to know that Raymond is Raymond Carver and Douglas is his editor Gordon Lish, who famously, or infamously, cut Carver’s stories by as much as 50%, in so doing giving them the distinctive quality that attracted critical attention – the terse  and eliptical ‘dirty realism’ that was known to readers and fellow-writers as the essential Carver style.

“Minimalism.” Don’t you get it?
I’m surprised this word hasn’t caught on in literary circles.

What is minimalism?
It’s the crackle of a sentence, the whiplash of an astoundingly concise turn of phrase, a newborn tale that dies in your hands. Not with a bang but a whimper.
A muffled noise, an invisible gash, emptiness; and yet the shadow of something. There are those who have sung the praises of the shadow. I’d like to praise emptiness. Without disclosing what it conceals.

Michaka gives us conversations, letters, interior monologue – the characters rarely together in the same room at the same time – and four short stories, in the fuller Carver idiom, and in need (or not) of editing, of cutting.

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It’s cleverly done, interesting to read – especially if you’re a writer, and a writer who’s dabbled in short stories – but with so much Carver out there – books about him by his first wife, Maryann, and the poet, Tess Gallagher, amongst others – and with What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Carver’s first collection of stories as edited by Lish, and Beginners, the same stories, before they were edited, now both available for comparison, I was left wondering quite what purpose Michaka’s novel serves. Other than as a testimony to his own skills and as another edition to the Carver memorial cannon.

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One thought on “Reading Matters: Minimalism 1 – Carver

  1. Interesting stuff – Lish appears to have adopted the same role that Teo Macero did with Miles’ early to mid 1970s output…..

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