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What It Used to Be Like: A Portrait of My Marriage to Raymond Carver Hardcover – July 11, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Though it's the relationship with Tess Gallagher during the last years of his life that most people remember, the majority of Raymond Carver's literary accomplishments took place during his 25-year marriage to his high school sweetheart. But while her story offers some biographical insights into how short stories like "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" were created, it's essentially a cliché-filled tale of the artist's suffering wife. During their honeymoon, he tells her that if he had to choose between her and writing, he'd take the writing. She doesn't get the hint, and time after time she winds up dropping out of college so she can support her family as Raymond struggles through creative writing programs and, later, alcoholism (years later, she recognizes her behavior as classic co-dependency). Their personal dramas, ranging from a string of crummy landlords to revelations of extramarital affairs, are presented in embarrassingly stiff dialogue, as are Maryann's occasional insights into Raymond's literary ambitions. "I like these people," he says of the working classes. "Maybe I'll be able to tell their stories as well as anyone." For all its intimate and frequently unpleasant details, her memoir doesn't explain how he succeeded. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Legendary writer Raymond Carver's struggle for recognition, his alcoholism, and his relationship with fellow writer Tess Gallagher in the years leading up to his death at age 50 are well documented, unlike his 27-year marriage to Maryann Burk Carver. Now, at long last, Maryann tells her story. She was a bright 15-year-old with her eye on law school in 1955 when she met Raymond, who at 17 already wanted to be a writer. Madly in love, the young couple married when Maryann became pregnant just before her high-school graduation. Soon they had two children--so much for law school. Maryann worked full time while Raymond attended college, wrote, and worked. Poor and intrepid, they lived an exhaustingly nomadic life. As she relates her compelling tale of love and sacrifice with candor and dignity, Maryann portrays a great American writer, illuminates a key chapter in the history of American literature, and presents powerful testimony to the dark side of both creativity and working-class life. Her exacting memoir also presents an unsparing chronicle of entrenched sexism, as well as the boundless joys and demands of marriage and parenthood. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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After Chuck Kinder's seminar at Stanford we retired to the old "Winery," where Ray proceeded to self-medicate. I ended up sitting in a corner of the bar with--Maryann. I remember thinking after that, of the trio I met that day--Chuck, Ray, and Maryann--it was 'the wife' who was most consistently centered, human, and positive. She showed nothing but enthusiasm about the writing life, which she encouraged me to join in. She said not one negative word about her out-of-control husband not twenty feet away.
Years later, after he was sober, I took a week-long workshop with Ray, one of the highlights of my life. The man's talent, generous patience with writers, and work cannot be overvalued. But, perhaps influenced by my love of naif art, my heart is pulled toward this book and Maryanne's selfless life.
Among her unending sacrifices, after Ray had gone through two drying-out places, out of money, she agreed to sell their house in Cupertino to plunk down thousands for another shot at his drying out, a stay that eventually led to the much-heralded 'second half' (actually, more like last eighth) of his life. I was especially taken with the the way Maryann could regularly shorten years of lived life into cogent paragraphs that I continue to re-read.
I couldn't disagree more with the Publishers Weekly review. I found the book enthralling, honest, and at times heartbreaking. I found Maryann Burk an enchanting figure with a lyrical voice, a larger-than-life personality, and a very American story to tell. It is no surprise that Ray continued to write about her to the very end. My only regret is that her story was so violently abridged. I would happily have read more.
If I ever win the lottery, I'm going to set up a trust fund for struggling writers and their families. It's a sad reflection on our country's educational system that more resources aren't available for them.
I applaud Ray for his committment, determination and talent, and I salute Maryann for her heroism. Thanks, Maryann, for writing this.