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The Cathedral by Raymond Carver is an extremely important story about inner conflict, the usually wrong causes of that conflict and how enlightenment brings an end to such problems.The story revolves around three characters, a husband Bub, his wife-unnamed, and a blind man-Robert.
Perhaps most notably, he almost entirely jettisons the last three pages.
He trades in Carver’s unabashedly theatrical catharsis for a quiet, ambiguous fizzle.
According to most, Lish did exactly what a great editor is supposed to do: fashioned Carver’s stories into more concise, more restrained, and yes, more versions of themselves.
In his editing of the story “Beginners” (re-titled by Lish “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” henceforth WWTA), for example, Lish is quite plainly allergic to any kind of bald declaration of emotion, disdaining anything even resembling melodrama.
Many critics essentially credit Lish with Carver’s success.
While some writers take umbrage with Lish’s slash-and-burn mentality as an editor, scant few critics contend that Carver’s writing was “better” before Lish got his hands on it.
It’s easy to see why Lish is a legendary editor; however, I can’t help but wonder if there was a middle ground, a version of the story that preserved some of the unusual aspects of “Beginners” while tempering some of Carver’s more melodramatic tendencies.
Then, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” could have been the white whale: a more effective and literary version of a remarkably different piece of literature.
The never-ending tension fills the reader with a physical dread while reading “Beginners,” an effect that is almost entirely absent in “WWTA.” Not only are the explicit declarations of anger or sadness taken out, but the abundant paragraph breaks and section breaks serve to give the illusion that time has passed in between awkward moments, dissipating the tension and robbing them of their cringeworthy power.
The insertion of white space might make the story more subtle, but it also serves to give the reader a break.