A massive biography explores questions about Carver’s authorship
A Writer's Life
by Carol Sklenicka
$35.00 List Price
Published in 1978, The Stories of John Cheever was a luminous treasure at the end of gravity’s rainbow. In that retrospective collection, Cheever’s fiction faced backward against the ranks of Pynchon, Barth, Gaddis, and Gass to sum up a rapidly vanishing era of smart manners and discreet affluence, but the hulking volume also heralded a new moment for the American short story. (The book sold some half a million copies, a record for short fiction.) Even if the New Yorker formula Cheever had perfected had become a bit tweedy, his sturdy old realism had life in it yet.
But the second coming of American realism struck out past the well-manicured lawns of tony Westchester and went down market, into Appalachia, the deep South, out West, and beyond. The movement, such as it was, earned the sobriquets “dirty realism” and “Kmart realism,” and if there is any one writer associated with the style it is Raymond Carver, whose influential collections Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love have been credited with reviving the fortunes of the short form in the 1970s and ’80s. Carver inspires an intense—at times disconcerting—piety in his admirers. For a decade after his major publications, it seemed almost every young writer wanted to be the next Carver (graduates of programs like the Iowa Writers’ Workshop should probably fork over royalties to the Carver estate: His hardscrabble tales launched a thousand MFAs). However, even a cursory scan of his biography—the booze, the infidelities, the serial bankruptcies, and the death at the height of his
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