I was in Strand with my boyfriend, I unwittingly picked up this book, Epigraph, not realizing that only a few days before I had been trashing the moral fiber of its author. I apparently hadn’t seen the author’s name, otherwise I would have put it right back on the shelf. I certainly wouldn’t have read it.
I read an article in the New Yorker that showed a collection of letters between Gordon Lish and Raymond Carver (the author of Will You Please Be Quiet Please? and What We Talk About When we Talk about Love). Lish was Carver’s editor and had basically gotten Carver his “big break”. The subject of these letters was the edits that had been made on Carvers most recent story: “A Small Good Thing”.
I say the subject of the letters was the “edits” made to “A Small Good Thing”, but it would probably be more accurate to call it the rewrite of the story. Gordon Lish had not only shortened the story by over 20 pages (leaving 8), he had also renamed characters and even changed the title of the story to “The Bath”. I read both stories, before and after butcher Lish had “trimmed the fat” and came to a few conclusions.
1) “The Bath” and “A Small Good Thing” were entirely different stories.
2) Raymond Carver was indeed too wordy, but not enough to cut 20 pages.
3) Gordon Lish had crossed the line.
I sympathized with Raymond Carver (even though he is a bit wordy for my taste) especially after reading his increasingly desperate letters. He couldn’t bear to publish “The Bath.” It wasn’t the story he had intended to write. I hated Lish on the principle that he had significantly overstepped his role as editor. After readingEpigraph, however I am forced to conclude that although he may be an awful editor, he is a very entertaining writer.
I admit that didn’t have much of a clue what was going on throughout the book. That really wasn’t a problem though. Lish’s writing speaks for itself. His use of words is incredibly satisfying and amusing. If a writer reaches a point, where the plot of his or her book is utterly insignificant to its entertainment value, I would have to call them a successful writer.
Lish transcends the borders between storytelling and actual writing. He is a writer and one, against my own principles, I enjoy thoroughly.