I gave him Sexus. He gave me What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The choices said a lot about us.
He said as he gave it to me, “Your writing reminds me of his”, but I’d never read any Carver, and the compliment was lost. The book then was slim and hardly worn. The spine still held and no pages had been turned down. I was scared of other people’s books, the expectations they brought, the obligation I felt to say I’d enjoyed them and the fear I’d mark them soon enough with coffee or stray mayo from a sandwich or worse - forget they weren’t mine and scribble notes into the margin.
The last collection of short stories I’d read had been Salinger’s For Esme – With Love and Squalor and although nearly half a lifetime had passed since that summer Carver was going to have to be good – really good – to convince me there was any other master of the short form besides Salinger.
I didn’t need to worry. I sat there on the front step with the sun burning my toes reading of people dancing outside at garage sales, birthday cakes uneaten as a little boy lies dying, gin filled afternoons debating the nature of love. All of life and death was there wrapped up in the one book, and I couldn’t help but do the gauge thing of falling in love, not with the writer, but with the giver of the book.
In many ways Carver kept me writing when the thought of attempting a full length was too daunting, instead I’d write snippets and snapshots. To me the whole Lish/Carver debate is immaterial, well suited to the classroom and the theoretics of it all but really it doesn’t change anything. I couldn’t care less how the stories became the stories they are, don’t care what Lish talked about when he talked about love or how much of a point Tess Gallagher had to prove. None of that matters, what matters is the stories exist, they are here now, bound up on our bookshelf, the spine bent, the pages folded over all coffee stained and ink marked and the book will remain the best of books, because of what it started.
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