But Jesus Christ. What a fucking bummer. Carver comes off very poorly here, as does almost everyone he knows--drinking buddies, enablers, philanderers, abusers, liars, fools. And Gordon Lish (whose editing I do believe improved Carver's work enormously, as Rhian and I previously discussed in these posts) would appear to be a total ass.
And yet...these monstrous years created a tremendous, if small, body of work--some of the best stories of the past half a century. I find myself in the position of not wanting it to be true, as there is nothing that enrages me more than that particular masculine insecurity that surfaces as self-pity and disrespect for women. But it is, and it often seems to be. How come weak men so often create great art?
Here's a passage from the book that really got my blood boiling. Carver is palling around with John Cheever in Iowa, who is busy drinking himself to death:
Cheever told Ray, "Fiction should throw light and air on a situation, and it shouldn't be vile. If somebody's getting a blow job in a balcony in a theater in Times Square, this may be a fact, but it's not the truth." Cheever believed fiction is "our most intimate and acute means of communication, at a profound level, about our deepest apprehensions and intuitions on the meaning of life and death." Both writers also disdained the so-called experimental fiction of the era.
What a bunch of horseshit! How convenient for Cheever, denying that the squalor of his own life could be regarded as "the truth" (Cheever and Carver got to the liquor store early, to make sure they were the first guys in the door), then dissing the fiction of the era designed specifically to explore the nuances of what he claimed to hold most dear. The hypocrisy and insecurity are staggering.
And yet...Cheever! And Carver! I love what these men did--they are heroes. And my heroes are bastards.
Of course, if we go around holding our favorite artists to high standards of personal behavior, there will be little art left for us to love. But why should that be? How can such personal weakness give way to such stunning brilliance? You can tell, obviously, that I have a horse in this race: I want to believe a nice fella can be a genius, too. And sure, I suppose it's possible. But it is sad to see how a writer so original could have been living, daily, the most boring imaginable cliché.