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This small format volume from Leconte, the publishing arm of Rome-based Italian magazine Storie, is a fascinating look into the previously unpublished works of Raymond Carver. As well as three poems and two one-act plays, other works appear, essays and poems written by those who knew him, including Japanese novelist and translator Haruki Murakami.
The cover of this attractively produced book features Carver and his partner Tess Gallagher, and the one-act plays inside are collaborative works between the two. Gallagher herself features strongly in this volume, through her own commentary and poems, and through the essays of those who knew the couple. There’s something intimate and personal about ‘Tell It All’, and there’s no question that the book is a labour of love from those who knew Carver.
The first unpublished work in the book is a haunting poem titled ‘Uncle Bob and the Art of Fiction’. Uncle Bob has hanged himself over a woman, according to the narrator’s father. The narrator senses a story here, the lonely Bob, and the unsuspecting woman who, at that very moment when he hanged himself, was probably thinking of someone else. The narrator circles the characters and the scenario he builds up, and then when he is ready to write the story down, the poem ends. I haven’t read Raymond Carver’s poetry so it’s hard to tell how this work compares to his usual standards, but for me it’s a work worthy of earlier publication. The reader can circle this poem in the same way the narrator mulls over events. It’s a poem powerful on first reading, which grows on rereading.
The second poem, ‘Instrument’, is brief, with a beautiful simplicity reminiscent of haiku. There’s strong imagery in these four lines. ‘Instrument’ lingers in the mind in spite of its brevity.
‘Louis, Dying’ begins: “Edna, his wife, / Has armed herself with a hammer.” The child narrator is gathered with his parents and Edna, while outside, Louis, a man who once rescued him, howls at the moon. Like the previous two poems there’s a dark current in this work. An essay follows the poems, which gives some background to Carver’s early collections, and the rediscovery of these unpublished works in 2000.
Two short one-act plays written with Tess Gallagher follow. Both have a sense of immediacy. The first, ‘The Favour’ involves a couple searching for an unnamed item they’ve been keeping for someone. We never find out what the missing item is, and its owner too is a mystery. It’s possible to speculate on the dark possibilities of the favour done, and the man they’ve been done for, but the play is more concerned with the danger of doing favours. The second play, ‘Can I Get You Anything?’ is set in a boutique, where two woman go in to try on clothes. It’s interesting to see how the drama in this work escalates from such subtle interactions between the two women, the saleswoman, and a new customer. The plays are followed by an essay by Tess Gallagher, explaining how they came to be written.
After this there are works by those who knew Carver. Gallagher’s poems ‘Dream Doughnuts’ and ‘Sixteenth Anniversary’ were both written after Carver’s death. I really love both these poems. The second, ‘Sixteenth Anniversary’ begins: “You died early and in summer. // Today, observing the anniversary / alone in a cabin at La Push, / I wandered down to the gray shingled / schoolhouse at the edge of the sea.” Later on in this poem there’s a particularly poignant section: “Before heading to the cemetery / I made them leave the lid up / while I ran out to the garden / and picked one more bouquet / of sweet peas to fan onto your / chest, remembering how you / beamed when I placed them / on your writing desk in / the mornings. You’d draw / the scent in deeply, / then I’d kiss you on the brow, / go out and quietly close / the door.” The poem continues, and there’s more I could have picked out that’s worth repeating. ‘Sixteenth Anniversary’ is a wonderful poem.
Next, there’s an essay, ‘Big’ by William L. Stull and Maureen P. Carroll. “Raymond Carver was big. He stood six feet two and weighed over two hundred pounds. As a boy he had been so fat he was certain only his parents would ever love him.” They mention, as others do, Carver’s alcoholism, his recovery and the “gravy years” of success between 1977 and his death in 1988 from cancer. There’s a nice anecdote about someone picking up Carver for an author event in a VW Beatle, no one having anticipated his size. Haruki Murakami follows this with his account of how he first encountered Carver’s writings and set out to translate all of them into Japanese. He mentions too his one meeting with Carver. Riccardo Duranti remembers his embarrassment at going to stay with Tess Gallagher, not realising until later that the quiet man who picked him up at the airport was the one and only Raymond Carver. Duranti’s other contributions come in the form of two poems dedicated to Carver. I particularly liked the poem ‘Short Story’. After that there’s a more neighbourly insight into Carver from a woman who used to take over her home made cookies.
The volume ends on a series of black and white photographs of Carver, Gallagher, and Carver’s parents and brother.
’Tell It All’ is an immensely readable book which shows Carver the man, the big teddy bear, awkward, quiet, generous, except when it came to the cookies he hoarded away during visits from his son. It places him too with the woman he loved, the poet and writer Tess Gallagher. Anyone who has read Carver will find the essays and the unpublished works fascinating. Readers coming to him for the first time through this small volume will be intrigued and touched, wanting to read more.
Reproduced with permission
Kara Kellar Bell is a film and media graduate from the West of Scotland, with a passion for European novels, French films, silent cinema, and Brazilian music (everything from Daniela Mercury and other pop stars through to bossa nova). As a writer, she likes to have room to move around creatively, so she’s not located in one genre. She writes realism and also stories of a more fantastic nature, usually grounded to some extent in the real world. She also takes delight in writing across the sexual spectrum, and as a bisexual, considers it important to remind people that things are not always black and white, either/or, in sexuality or in gender. For a selection of Kara’s writing on the Showcase section of this site, click here
|TELL IT ALL
by Raymond Carver & Tess Gallagher
Reviewed by Kara Kellar Bell
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