I finished the redraft of The Long Week (the novel formerly known as An Honourable Man) yesterday. I’ve cut nearly 4,000 words from it, which was quite distressing at the time but I think it makes it a much better, tighter read. I’m trying very hard to teach myself to RUE (Resist the Urge to Explain) everything, leaving things for the reader to work out or just leaving them unsaid.
I’ve always considered the master of concision to be the great Raymond Carver. I read a few weeks ago that his widow was planning to bring out the original ‘unexpurgated’ versions of some of his short stories, unsullied by editorial intervention, and I was eagerly awaiting their publication. Imagine my distress, therefore, to learn from last Saturday’s Guardian that most of the things I really like about Carver's writing weren’t written about Carver at all – they were written by his editor Gordon Lish.
Of course, I knew about Lish’s influence on Carver. I was once told for instance that Lish made him rewrite the 8,000 word A Small, Good Thing which resulted in the 2,000 word The Bath (although I've since learnt that Carver wrote the longer version two years after the shorter story). But I always assumed it was Carver that had penned the rewrites. Now it seems it was Lish all along. I’m pleased to say I’m not alone in feeling somehow let down. Marcel Berlins shares my sense of . . . well, if not betrayal then at least disappointment.
It’s not the fact that the stories are less good, or in any way devalued by not being entirely by the hand of the great man. It’s more that I like to aspire to describing my writing as ‘Carveresque’. From now on, I suppose I’ll have to say it is a bit ‘Lishy’.