Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* A great American short story writer, Raymond Carver is renowned for his scrubbed-down realism and profoundly unsettling insights into couples and domesticity. Sklenicka, the influential writer's first biographer, spoke with hundreds of people who knew Carver back when he was the smart, solitary son of a hard-drinking sawmill worker in Washington State, and throughout his alcohol-fueled odyssey as he crossed the country in despair and hope, struggling to write and get published. His rambling, feckless, obsessive ways wouldn't have been catastrophic if Carver hadn't married at age 17 and quickly had two children. His bright, gutsy first wife, Maryann Burk Carver, supported him for more than half of his sadly shortened life Carver died at 50 in 1988 and she is every bit as compelling and complex as he is as Sklenicka meticulously and vividly traces their every move, bankruptcy, and battle. Sklenicka is equally incisive in covering Carver's relationship with Gordon Lish, the editor who brought him to light, then became a magnet for controversy due to his extensive revising of Carver's manuscripts. Sklenicka deciphers many sensitive aspects of Carver's roller-coaster adventures while offering fascinating analysis of how he milled his life into fiction and used the short story as a tool for emotional survival. A riveting and essential piece in the grand puzzle of American literature.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2009 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
He has been called "a chronicler of blue-collar despair." He led a relatively private life, much of it spent trying to raise cash via odd jobs and the writing-conference circuit, and died from the cancerous effects of excessive drinking and smoking. Raymond Carver (1938-1988) is a fascinating figure more for what went on in his imagination, as it registered the dynamics of couples' relationships amid the counterculture, than for his messy life. He came from the lower-middle class of Yakima, Wash., and was a father before he turned 21. Maryann Burk, his first wife, had her own measure of success as a memoirist, but as the Carvers' lives came to resemble his stories, they divorced. Carver soon found his second great love, Tess Gallagher. It's ironic that the master of the minimalist short story has his own life recounted in such whopping detail by short story writer and essayist Sklenicka. Earnest and carefully researched, this biography interestingly recounts Carver's working relationship with editor Gordon Lish and other publishing figures. But the writing is most compelling in an epilogue that highlights posthumous legal disputes showing Gallagher maintaining an iron grip on Carver's growing legacy and reputation. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Greatly admired and controversial, Raymond Carver was one of the major short story writers and poets of the 1980s, praised for his innovative, minimalist prose. Born into a working-class family, he married at 19, had two children right away, and never could find enough money. His increasing alcohol use helped to ease his stress but led to serious dysfunction and dependency until he became sober for the last 11 years of his life. The characters in his stories are plagued by some of the same problems with money, alcohol, and relationships he was facing. Sklenicka (D.H. Lawrence and the Child) draws on letters and numerous interviews to capture the tragedy of Carver's life and analyze his work. She tackles in detail the controversy over Gordon Lish's editorial contributions to Carver's style in his first two story collections, a process that substantially altered the works. Verdict This carefully researched, definitive biography will appeal to scholars, writers, and Carver enthusiasts.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A rich portrait of a master of the American short story. The life of Raymond Carver (19381988) hews closely to a heroic arc: a hardscrabble childhood, a noble struggle for success, a fall from grace and ultimate redemption. But Sklenicka wisely avoids hagiography, sticking to the facts while astutely connecting real-life details to Carver's stories and poems. Born in Oregon, Carver began his writing career in earnest in the early 1960s at Chico State University under the tutelage of novelist John Gardner, earning publications in small literary magazines. He traveled often during his early years with his first wife, Maryann, and two children, as he scrounged for whatever academic appointments might enable him to write his ironic, pointed stories about working-class lives. By the early '70s those stories caught the attention of Esquire fiction editor Gordon Lish, but Carver's finances were in a shambleshe would declare bankruptcy twice in his lifetimeand his alcoholism had deepened. Sklenicka captures many heartbreaking moments from that periodnever more harrowing than when he smashed a wine bottle against Maryann's head, nearly killing her. Carver stopped drinking in 1977, and in his final years he wrote many of the stories that his towering reputation is now built on. The "Good Ray" that replaced the "Bad Ray" of the alcoholic years was a gentle man who too often acceded to the demands of people like Lish, who invented much of Carver's "minimalist" reputation by aggressively editing and rewriting his stories. In his final years, though, he earned enough clout and confidence to be nobody's pushover. Sklenicka spoke with nearly everyone in Carver's orbit, making the book a kind of history of American fiction in the '70s and '80s, capturing the crucial writers (Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff, John Cheever) and sea changes in the publishing industry that made Carver such a powerful influence on writers today. The epic biography that Carver deserves. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Descriptive content provided by Syndetics™, a Bowker service.