"Minimalism is often faulted for a lack of complexity, but I think What We Talk About is an excellent example of how repetition and variation between stories can in fact create a different kind of nuanced complexity over the course of a collection." (page 80)
Frankly, I hadn't written a short story in four or five years. I turned in The New York Stories and SEX AND DEATH and I was done. Not consciously mind you, there was no announcement or decision, nothing profound or definitive. There just weren't any more stories available to me, and there were other things to write, novels and essays. And how pretentious is that? Quite. Still, at some point I started a list of story ideas that I thought could speak to one another, forming a kind of arc and conversation, something Brian Evenson writes about in Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Bookmarked. In fact, he literally writes how these "stories are in conversation with one another," on page 80 and I quite love that. But how couldn't I? If The Basketball Diaries laid the groundwork for the messy, raw nerve-ending, real time, electric vibe I've tried to capture from the moment I started writing, it is What We Talk About When We Talk About Love that made me want to write short stories and think about them as being in conversation with another, creating a sense of time and place uniquely their own. It also made me think that there was no point in thinking about writing one story at a time, but that I should always think about groups of stories and collections. When I started I didn't have the language of conversation in mind, it was about ideas that hang together, more social work than literary. I also didn't really know about Raymond Carver, and nothing of the controversies involving his editor Gordon Lish, something Evenson writes of with great care and understanding. What I did know was that I wanted to write and that I loved the movie Shortcuts. These ideas were not connected to me as much they were parallel thoughts running through my brain. But then I learned that the intersecting stories in Shortcuts were taken from Carver's work, specifically What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, was compelled to read it, and felt something I had rarely experienced since The Basketball Diaries, a sort of transformation, more of a transportation really. Which is to say that I felt transported above the page, the stories becoming near physical presences in the room. I was enamored with the tight, clean use of language, the richness of the characters, the focus on domestic life, small towns, substance abuse, the doses of violence. It's not that I knew this world, not exactly, but like The Basketball Diaries I knew the impulses and feelings that provided the basis for the stories. What I didn't know then, but know now was that it was the minimalism that most spoke to me, and continues to speaks to me, and when I wrote my debut novel Lucky Man and my first group of stories for the collection "Repetition Patterns," the first third of which comprise The New York Stories, it was that minimalism that I aspired to. Later, now, I consciously seek it out, making cuts, stripping away language, explaining less, asking the reader to fill in the gaps. And it is now that I want to write short stories again, and I started keeping a list of ideas, waiting for the time to start, and I thought I might re-read What We Talk About When We Talk About Love to get into the right head space. I also saw Evenson's book and felt it might be a nice supplement and offer additional stimulation and thinking. I know the stories, but I know little about about Carver or what these stories meant to him. But I didn't read it, not immediately. Then someone asked me for a story and after a year or so of turning down such requests, I looked at my list and saw a story waiting to be written. Much of the rest of the list sucked, but I started to write that first one, and the ideas are flowing and the list is recreating itself. I also started to wonder if I even needed to re-read What We Talk About When We Talk About Love? The stories are happening anyway. But I saw no reason not read Evenson writing about it, to dig further into the writer brain, and what an engaging dialogue it was. Even when sifting through the pain, Carver's mostly, the struggles with Lish, and editing, and what editing means in terms of the final results. What Evenson has done is craft a rumination on editing, writing what we love and how we love it, as writers, readers and humans, and more specifically lovers of Carver. I'm not sure when I'll read the collection again. I have what I need for now. Evenson gave me that. Thoughts on minmalism, conversation and "human noise." But so has my own brain. It's ready to write short stories again, and ready to change my life, if not those of others, though that remains to be seen.