Boy oh boy this is great (yes, I am that kind of nerd). A few years ago The New Yorker published an early draft of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” which was originally titled “Beginners.” The New Yorker simultaneously published a version of the story showing Gordon Lish’s edits. It’s a fascinating look at the Carver-Lish writing experience. In the sample that follows, strike-throughs are deletions and boldfaced words are Lish’s additions—
My friend Mel
HerbMcGinnis , a cardiologist,was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right. ¶ The four of us were sitting around his kitchen table drinking gin. It was Saturday afternoon.Sunlight filled the kitchen from the big window behind the sink. There were Mel Herband me Iand his second wife, Teresa—Terri, we called her—and my wife, Laura. We lived in Albuquerque ,then. But butwe were all from somewhere else. ¶ There was an ice bucket on the table. The gin and the tonic water kept going around, and we somehow got on the subject of love. Mel Herbthought real love was nothing less than spiritual love. He said When he was younghe’d spent five years in a seminary before quitting to go to medical school. He He’d left the Church at the same time, but hesaid he still looked back on tothose years in the seminary as the most important in his life.
Terri said the man she lived with before she lived with Mel
Herbloved her so much he tried to kill her. Herb laughed after she said this. He made a face. Terri looked at him.Then Terri shesaid, “He beat me up one night , the last night we lived together. He dragged me around the living room by my ankles. He kept saying, , all the while saying,‘I love you, don’t you see?I love you, you bitch.’ He went on dragging me around the living room. My , myhead kept knocking on things.” Terri Shelooked around the table at us and then looked at her hands on her glass. “What do you do with love like that?” she said.¶ She was a bone-thin woman with a pretty face, dark eyes, and brown hair that hung down her back. She liked necklaces made of turquoise, and long pendant earrings. She was fifteen years younger than Herb, had suffered periods of anorexia, and during the late sixties, before she’d gone to nursing school, had been a dropout, a “street person” as she put it. Herb sometimes called her, affectionately, his hippie.
“My God, don’t be silly. That’s not love, and you know it,” Mel
Herbsaid. “I don’t know what you’d call it, —madness is what I’d call it—but I sure know you wouldn’t call it it’s sure as hell notlove.”