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Edited and Unedited: Raymond Carver's 'One More Thing'

In his short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver writes, “it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love”. In fact, his whole short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, published in 1981, is entirely dedicated to exploring the act of communicating and talking about love. As Facknitz (1989) explained, “Raymond Carver is an author whose characters fail to communicate” (Facknitz, 1989, p65). Consequently, when reading this collection, the reader encounters domestic situations, very familiar to Carver, in which its characters are unable to properly communicate their feelings, primarily love. Through his minimalist prose and dirty realism, Carver reveals the difficulties people have when relating to one another. And thus, the reasons for dysfunctionality in romantic and family relationships.


The interesting fact about Carver’s writing is that his editor, Gordon Lish, usually edited Carver’s stories so as to extenuate Carver’s minimalism even further. This editing style is particularly highlighted in the short story One More Thing. In both versions, LD is asked to leave home after his wife Maxine finds him arguing about his alcoholism with their daughter Bea, or Rae in Lish’s version. However, the way the characters navigate the situation can be interpreted very differently depending on the version that one reads. On this topic, Addington (2016) contends that “regardless of post-Lish edits, Carver’s stories remain in the realist tradition. While Lish’s stories create ontological quandaries that call into question the worlds created within them, Carver’s stories profess verisimilitude […]. That is not to say, however, that Lish’s edits do not affect the worlds created” (Addington, 2016, p14). Therefore, despite the plot being fairly the same, the text itself communicates differently, hence reflecting how communication can determine the course of the story. For this reason, this article strives to introduce the main differences between both versions. In addition, it will comment on the effects these differences have on the texts’ possible interpretations by arguing that communication or lack of communication influences the narrative in Raymond Carver’s One More Thing.


Figure 1. Writer Raymond Carver (left) and his editor Gordon Lish (right).

Upon first perusal, Lish’s version seems too vague to allow the reader to properly understand the whole situation and context. There are no verbal instances of LD’s alcoholism in his discussion with Bea because “evidence for L.D.’s alcoholism is strong enough throughout both versions and the origin of this quarrel is less significant than the existence or not of a natural paternal relationship” (Clark, 2012, p. 164). This shows that it is not only love people have trouble talking about, but also situations in which speech appears insufficient to communicate feelings of frustration, anger, or despair. For instance, Bea cannot fully express that she wants her father to stop drinking and that she believes he can do it. In the unedited version, Bea expresses: “Tell him, Mom. Tell him what we talked about. It’s in his head, isn’t it? If he wants to stop drinking, all he has to do is tell himself to stop. It’s all in his head” (Carver, 1981, p. 28). While the edited version leaves it to “Tell him, Mom. Tell him what we talked about” (Carver, 2009, p. 323). Although Carver had severe problems with alcohol, in this case, it can be contended that drinking is an excuse to present how father and daughter communicate.


LD refusing to accept or discuss his alcoholism, and the subsequent violence that usually follows, strains the father-daughter and the husband-wife relationships. In fact, Lish’s version has no instance of the word ‘dad’, whereas the term appears repeatedly in Carver’s original version. As a result, the dynamic of their relationship changes because of this vocative. Therefore, highlighting their relationship and how Bea/Rae communicates with LD shapes the characters’ involvement in their relationships. Similarly, the fact that Maxine, LD’s wife and Bea’s mother, intervenes and gains some control of the situation refutes that, in the middle-class context the story happens in, “women are not equal in conversation, their status in spoken interaction being similar to that of children talking to adults on the grounds of their limited (or non-existent) power to control the course of the conversation” (Gómez Galisteo, 2011, p. 134). Consequently, the gendered interactions are influenced by how they communicate, to the extent that “men, in order to control the course of the conversation and to prevent their topic from being dropped, hold the floor most of the time, […] trying to silence disagreeing voices in an active and open way by using verbal abuse and strong criticism” (Gómez Galisteo, 2011, p. 134). LD uses violence when Maxine and Bea confront him: “His gaze switched from Maxine to a jar of pickles that had been on the table since lunch. He picked up the jar and hurled it past the refrigerator through the windowsill and pickles flew out into the chill night” (Carver, 1981, p. 29). To LD, communication supposes a form of control loss which he cannot allow as a man confronted by two women. Bea’s “God, Dad, we were just talking” (Carver, 1981, p. 29) does not reach LD, who does not comprehend even that his wife and daughter are simply concerned about his wellbeing, and hence, their own.


Figure 2. Carver's short story collection 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love' published in 1981.

Additionally, Carver’s version might be more explicit in its attempts at communication, but might infer even less than Lish’s streamlined version. Indeed, the characters might talk more but communicate less. In those terms, Lish’s version is supported by non-verbal communication. When he is sent packing, LD starts hoarding objects, either in another attempt at regaining control or just to buy himself time. However, this interpretation is left to the reader to determine, since non-verbal communication is multifaceted. Correspondingly, May (2001) states that “whereas the ‘truth’ of information derives from an abstracting effort to arrive at a distilled discursive meaning, the truth of story is communicated by a patterned recounting of a concrete experience in such a way that the truth is embodied rather than explained” (May, 2001, p40). Therefore, the action of talking about love must be presumed in the silences or the characters’ corporality. As a consequence, this dichotomy formulates whether expressing or wording love, particularly in and after the twentieth century, has become superficial. In fact, the constant use of ‘love’ signals that it “has been so beaten down in twentieth century discourse, particularly the rhetoric of advertising and popular culture, that it’s hard to know what anyone means by it anymore” (Moramarco, cited in Gómez Galisteo, 2001, p. 128). This is clearly exemplified in the ending, which has been heavily discussed when comparing both versions.


In Carver’s version, LD expresses his love by saying, “I just want to say one more thing, Maxine. Listen to me. Remember this. […] I love you. I love you no matter what happens. I love you too, Bea. I love you both” (Carver, 1981, p. 29). Yet, Maxine responds with “You call this love, L.D.?” (ibid.), leading the reader to decode whether this profession of love is actually real or just used by LD so as to not be thrown out of the house. By contrast, Lish’s version ends with LD saying “‘I just want to say one more thing.’ But then he could not think what it could possibly be” (Carver, 1981, 326). This verbality or lack thereof leaves the story with an open ending: the possibility of LD actually never leaving but this being a routinely argument, while the unedited version is quite conclusive. Most of all, the text allows the reader to “consider the extent to which each version shows empathy or understanding for L.D. The earlier version tells us more about what he is thinking and implicates fairly strongly assumptions about how he is feeling. The later version only tells us what he does (or does not do or say)” (Clark, 2012, p. 168). In other words, “the difficulty in interpreting the end of Lish’s version has implications beyond reaching conclusions about the story itself and that reveals the differing literary goals of Lish and Carver” (Addington, 2016, p. 19).


Figure 3. Both endings of Carver's and Lish's versions.

Overall, both Carver and Lish present different ways in which people can communicate or talk about love. Correspondingly, they show the versatility of human communication and comprehension. Nonetheless, both editions demonstrate the craft in Carver’s words: people have great difficulties talking about love, understanding love, and even accepting love, and shame can only be expected if people do not really know what they intend to communicate. Therefore, verbally expressing love has been revealed to be insufficient and thus, resorting to non-verbal communication has become a new theme in literature. Furthermore, the lack of effective and direct communication might derive in the destruction of family dynamics. LD’s relationship with both his wife Maxine and his daughter Bea dysfunctions due to his refusal to discuss and listen to his family. As a result, Carver’s story ‘One More Thing’ serves as an example, as do his other short stories, that human experience is universal, and hence, when nurturing them through open communication, they can cultivate strong interpersonal relationships.


Bibliography

Addington, W. (2016). Will You Please Be Edited, Please?: Gordon Lish and the Development of Literary Minimalism. CEA Critic, 78(1), 1-23. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26574794

Carver, R. (1981). One More Thing. The North American Review, 266(1), 28-29.


Carver, R. (2009). Collected Stories. Library of America.


Clark, B. (2012). Beginning With “One More Thing”: Pragmatics and Editorial Intervention in the work of Raymond Carver. Journal of Literary Semantics, 41(2), 155-173. https://doi.org/10.1515/jls-2012-0010


Facknitz, M. A. R. (1989). Raymond Carver and the Menace of Minimalism. CEA Critic, 52(1/2), 62-73. https://jstor.org/stable/44378200


Gómez Galisteo, M. C. (2011). What Men and Women Do When They Talk About Love: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love” by Raymond Carver. Journal of English Studies (Logroño), 9(9), 125-141. https://doi.org/10.18172/jes.168


May, C. E. (2001). “Do You See What I’m Saying?”: The Inadequacy of Explanation and the Uses of Story in the Short Fiction of Raymond Carver. The Yearbook of English Studies, 31, 39-49. https://doi.org/10.2307/3509372

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Natàlia Vila

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