Beginners by Raymond Carver, 1981
The magic trick:
The story of the elderly couple in the car accident
The story’s existence requires a brief explanation. It is Carver’s draft of the story the world would know as “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” published in 2007 minus all the Gordon Lish edits.
Personally, I think the Lish edits made the story. This version is needlessly long and feels a little unfocused. (I know, I know, I should write as “unfocused” as Raymond Carver.)
Check back tomorrow for a look at “What We Talk About..” For now, I will say that the story about the elderly couple that suffers traumatic injuries in a car accident is better in “Beginners” than in “What We Talk About.” It is longer here, left to breathe a little more. It also does away with the semi-ridiculous, mummy, mouth-hole detail that was evidently a Lish creation.
The elderly couple’s tale is maudlin, but that works well, I think, within the context of the gin-soaked conversation. These four people talking about love truly are beginners, and the elderly couple’s love makes that point nicely. And that’s quite a trick on Carver’s part.
“She was still in bandages, but only from the pelvic area down. I pushed Henry up to the left side of her bed and said, ‘You have some company, Anna. Company, dear.’ But I couldn’t say any more than that. She gave a little smile and her face lit up. Out came her hand from under the sheet. It was bluish and bruised-looking. Henry took the hand in his hands. He held it and kissed it. Then he said, ‘Hello, Anna. How’s my babe? Remember me?’ Tears started down her cheeks. She nodded. ‘I’ve missed you,’ he said. She kept nodding. The nurse and I got the hell out of there. She began blubbering once we were outside the room, and she’s a tough lot, that nurse. It was an experience, I’m telling you. But after that he was wheeled down there every morning and every afternoon. We arranged it so they could have lunch and dinner together in her room. In between times, they’d just sit and hold hands and talk. They had no end of things to talk about.”