Raymond Carver is one of those authors who's been on my List for years--that List I keep of books and authors I plan on getting around to sooner or later. I've never actually read any of his short stories or poetry, but I've read quite a bit about the man himself.
Recently, I came across a piece in The Sun by his second wife, Tess Gallagher, about his hard-won sobriety. The piece included some of his poems and my interest in him became even greater. Before I had a chance to dig around in the stacks for a short story collection, I stumbled on a book by his first wife, Maryann Burk Carver.
What It Used To Be Like is the story of their marriage--beginning in their teens and lasting twenty-five years. When I first started reading the book, it was out of curiosity about Ray Carver, but a few chapters in, I realized I was just as fascinated by this woman who, while she was still a girl, made a commitment to a man, who was still in many ways a boy and how the two of them fought so hard for so long to make their marriage work--against incredible odds.
It helps that the book reads as though Maryann is sitting across the table from you with a cup of coffee reminiscing about her life with one of America's greatest writers. Writing was central to Ray's life and, therefore, to Maryann's and while it's never far from the surface, I don't think you have to be a full-out bibliophile to really appreciate this book.
It's about much more than writing--it's about all the intricacies and complexities of trying to build a life together under extraordinary circumstances and I would recommend it to anyone who's interested in the thousand and one ways husbands and wives prop each other up and let each other down.
Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Valuable.
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