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Gallagher offers glimpse into Raymond Carver's life

| Sunday, Feb. 4, 2001

In her foreword to 'Call If You Need Me,' Tess Gallagher terms the collection's previously unpublished short stories by Raymond Carver akin to 'rain collected in a barrel, water gathered straight from the sky.'

'We ought to be very thankful of having this way of following him, of being very early with him in these drafts,' Gallagher says. 'And Ray would have not objected to these. I should know more than anyone.'

Gallagher, a poet and author who began a relationship with Carver in 1977 that lasted until his death in 1988, further gives readers an inside glimpse to the writer's life in 'Soul Barnacles,' a series of her essays, journals and letters. Collectively, the two books provide a refreshing retrospective to the life and works of one of the acknowledged masters of fiction in the second half of the 20th century.

The five short stories in 'Call If You Need Me' - three found by Gallagher in the couple's home in Port Angeles, Wash., the other two in a collection of Carver's papers at Ohio State University - are far from finished works, Gallagher admits. Carver approached the craft of writing in a meticulous and determined manner, sometimes going through 20 drafts before he was satisfied a story was ready for publication.

'Some of the stories right at the end seemed not to have found their final resting place,' Gallagher says. 'They didn't have that hum that he liked, or even just the way of getting out of the story. You felt like he would have come back and given it more attention.'

With Jay Woodruff, a friend and senior editor at Esquire magazine, Gallagher pored over the stories. The editing process was both a labor of love and an exhilarating experience as the pair often had to intuit a word or phrase from Carver's 'cramped' handwriting.


The books


  • 'Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose,' by Raymond Carver; foreword by Tess Gallagher. (Vintage; $13).
  • 'Soul Barnacles: Ten More Years with Ray,' by Tess Gallagher. (The University of Michigan Press; $29.95).
  • But despite the unfinished nature of the discovered stories, Gallagher says readers will see similarities to Carver's published works.

    'There are correspondences to his stories, and between his poems and the stories, even in the images and characters and situations that are reoccurring,' she says. 'But they're different in the approaches he makes to the material.'

    Of the five new pieces, Gallagher cites 'Dreams,' a story about a woman who loses her children in a fire, as her favorite. Told in Carver's typically straightforward and unadorned style, 'Dreams' showcases the writer's gift for capturing the smallest details of human nature:

    Mary Rice went back to work, only now she worked days, in an office, and I saw her leave the house in the morning and return home a little after five. The lights would go out over there around ten at night. The shade in the children's room was always pulled, and I imagined, though I didn't know, that the door was closed.

    'Ray just had that sense of people's relationships and the way in which the fabric can give way, or in which it is magically supported. Or the mysteriousness of relationships, the way people support each other even when it's not going to be tenable later on,' Gallagher says. 'That's what you get in a story like 'Vandals' or 'Call If You Need Me.' He was just so wonderful at giving that quiet kind of murmuring underneath what is being said and what is coming to life between people.'

    'Soul Barnacles' further illuminates the nature of Carver's craft and life, and Gallagher's own existence since he passed away. Starting with the journals she kept on their last two trips to Europe in 1987, she writes of their relationship as literary companions, and how Carver continues to be part of her life.

    The title refers to the marine crustaceans that attach themselves to ship bottoms. Sometimes, barnacles are scraped off, but Gallagher quickly notes they often go on long travels.

    As does her life without Carver.

    'Those rails, when they rise up, you see the patina on them,' she says of sighting a boat in drydock. 'There are places where things have fallen away, and there's the healing mark and the sign that something was there, and you carry that as a sign of what is absent.'

    Regis Behe can be reached at (412) 320-7990 or rbehe@tribweb.com .

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