Friday, December 14, 2012


"You had to write a NOVEL to talk yourself out of having a third child?"

"Raymond Carver is worshipped by young male writers, but he was a terrible father and a terrible, terrible husband. He nearly killed his wife with a broken wine bottle! She almost bled to death! But no one cared. They just talked about what a fantastic brilliant writer he was. And he was a fantastic brilliant writer. But take, for example, Sylvia Plath...people don’t separate her life from her work as much."
—Paula Bomer literally never stops saying thought-provoking things in this interview about her new book, Nine Months, available via Emily Books, a service without which I might forget to read altogether.

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Shit. I didn't know that about Carver. I mean, I knew he was an alcoholic lout, but I didn't know that about the domestic violence.

As of a few minutes ago, the "Quotations" thing in my Facebook had his "That morning she pours Teacher's over my belly and licks it off. That afternoon she tries to jump out the window. / I go, 'Holly, this can't continue. This has got to stop.'" quote. It's been there for years. Not anymore. Fucking heroes, of any sort. Can't have 'em, they only disappoint you.


@Emby this is similar to how i felt when i found out Roald Dahl was a raging fascist, anti-semite and nazi sympathizer. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO ENJOY THE BFG NOW?!


@wearitcounts No, what! I thought he SPIED on the fascists! Is this not real!! I am so upset now!


@aphrabean to be fair, so was T.S. Eliot and and George Bernard Shaw. womp WOMP.


@wearitcounts I thought he was shooting at Nazis for most of WWII? In one of his autobiographies ("Flying Solo" maybe?) he says he never forgave the Vichy government for all the misery they caused the French. I mean, I'll totally buy that he was an anti-semite (and by all accounts an absolutely terrible husband/probably person in general) but Nazi sympathizer and fascist? Tell me more! (Or don't, I love "Matilda" too much.)

fondue with cheddar

I'm not seeing a link to the interview.


@fondue with cheddar Yeah, the link goes to the description of the book at Emily Books, and I didn't see a link to the interview either. NICOLE HALP

Nicole Cliffe

@fondue with cheddar Link there now! Sorry!


@Nicole Cliffe YAY!


@PatatasBravas Ooh, that interview is good! I am sold on reading the book now.

Also, regarding Sylvia Plath, from that interview: She holds the baby and says “I don’t know if I like him.” People don’t want to hear that, you’re supposed to fall immediately in love with your child. And sometimes that does happen! But if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. It’s quite normal to not know how you feel about this thing that just popped out of you, this stranger.

I would love to have some hangouts with Plath. I think we would get along!

fondue with cheddar

@Nicole Cliffe Yay, thank you!

fondue with cheddar

Can you imagine being in an abusive relationship, all the while hearing everyone everywhere rave about how wonderful your abuser is?


@fondue with cheddar I realize that I just keep dumping sad things all over your comments (like the tragically violent possibilities of a Wiffleball bat) but I feel like what you've described is a far more common scenario than we know.

[insert off-topic frothing about the GMP and gratuitous defense of abusers]


@fondue with cheddar Definitely this. A college friend of mine who was sexually assaulted by a mutual acquaintance once told me that her main reason for coming forward to the school was because every professor, administrator and many young women thought he was God's gift, and she wanted everyone to see who he really was - to humiliate him as much as she could, a revenge for the degradation of body and soul he had forced on her. Similarly, I felt the same way about my abuser.

Judith Slutler

@PatatasBravas ugggh 4 serious wih the extraneous offtopic frothing

fondue with cheddar

@PatatasBravas What's GMP? Anyway, I'm sure it is. I have a friend who was in an abusive relationship, and everyone thought he was this wonderful guy. Very charismatic. It seemed like nobody believed her, or didn't want to believe her, or thought she was exaggerating, or "there are two sides to every story" blah blah blah. But I believed her, and part of the reason I am no longer friends with nearly all of my college friends is the fact that they're all still friends with him.

@Gussie I'm so sorry that happened to you and your friend. I cannot even imagine how that must feel.


@fondue with cheddar Thanks. It was an awful thing for her to have to go through, but she got something that many victims don't, in that her coming forward led to him being kicked out of school weeks shy of graduation for multiple assaults/rape allegations (many women ended up coming forward when they found out she was going to). So, there is that tiny bit of good that came out of it.

fondue with cheddar

@Gussie Multiple assaults, geez. I'm glad he got what was coming to him, not that it was as much as he deserved.


@fondue with cheddar I've been in that situation (long gone, no worries and no sympathy necessary!), so it's interesting to look at this both from the perspective of a writer/reader who believes pretty strongly in multiple critical points-of-view on a work, including the value of art separate from your personal esteem from the artist (some Barthesian death of the author factors in here) and from someone who's had to stand in that poisonous shadow before. I caution anyone from making too many assumptions based on the feelings of Hypothetical Abuse Victims, anyway, and what they might think of Carver. Frankly, I'm fairly against the well-meaning desire of people to think on the behalf of Hypothetical Abuse Victims in general, especially when it causes them to start sentences with, "Once on an episode of Law & Order: SVU..."

(Not that familiar with Carver myself, but it doesn't seem like he'd be to my taste, nasty human being or no.)

I'm really against the romanticization and mythologization of pathological behavior in famous people anyway, though. That's not to say I'm in favor of condemning their work, either: just this creation of Troubled Great Man (sometimes Woman, but almost always Man) narratives really bugs me. This is why I rarely ever see Hollywood biopics.

fondue with cheddar

@ourlightsinvain I understand where you're coming from. I can't help but try to imagine the feelings of people to whom Bad Things happen, but I certainly don't presume to know what they feel, because nobody knows except that person and anyone with whom they share their feelings. No assumptions, just empathy.

Re: SVU, do people really say that? Because ugh.


This is a problem I have with a lot of writers I love/loved before I found out what mega-dicks they were personally. Like I read The Executioner's song and I am all fuck yeah Norman Mailer, this is some good crime writing. Wait, he stabbed his wife among other terrible things? FFFUUUUUU. Roald Dahl? FFFFUUUUUU. The list goes on.

Anyway it does seem to me that when it is a Great White Male Writer, their personal lives (both the good and the very bad) are typically used to further mythologize them in some way. Like man, look how AUTHENTIC this guy is, with his penknife, stabbing his wife and shit! Meanwhile I'm over her going Nooooo! while sinking to my knees on the steps of a New England church in the rain, because I can't and won't always separate the man/woman from the work.

This includes my favorite writer of all time, sadly, who is well known to be a complete pile of dick and I am determined never to meet him "IRL" as the kids say because my heart can't take it.


@Ialdagorth Can I ask who your favorite author is that you will never never meet?

Yeah, the middle section of the "festishizing of authenticity" and "authorial violence apologia" Venn Diagram is full of impressionable people defending Great White Male Writers, sadly.

Not that the writing can't still be good, or interesting, or whatever. It's okay to like some writing, as long as one doesn't get all defensive and wacky about how the author of that writing was A FLAWLESS INDIVIDUAL, NEVER QUESTION THEM!!!!!


@PatatasBravas Not to self-promote, but I wrote a whole thing about this and the David Foster Wallace juggernaut over at Thought Catalog, so this is a subject I have a LOT of feelings about. I feel like almost everyone over there missed my point. "Separate the author from their work" is a piece of advice that is so rarely and inconsistently applied, and almost always disproportionately to the benefit of Great White Men who treat women and minorities a lot shittier than others.



@PatatasBravas Harlan Ellison. :\ I am not that highbrow in most respects, and I grew up reading his shit and loving it and not really noticing that he sucked at female characters till I was much older. In his moderate defense, he's never stabbed anyone - he's just a well known curmudgeon and sexist pig.

Nicole Cliffe

He did send me the NICEST EMAIL via a publicist or something after I wrote about "Dangerous Visions," so I will always hold a soft spot for him in my heart.


@Nicole Cliffe Oh I still love him in my way. I just decided I didn't want to meet him in person, on the off chance he said or did something that would like shatter all my dreams and illusions of him being 100% awesome. I don't think he's a complete bad person or anything (once again - no stabbing).
Complete pile of dick may have been a bit harsh, now that I think about it - I'll stick with curmudgeon.


@Ialdagorth I have an entire shelf of Ellison (srsly ALL THE BOOKS), and I also feel this. He changed my life! His stories are amazing! And apparently he can be a raging asshole! But I still proudly display those books because they definitely made me who I am today. And I was so happy to see Nicole's shout-out to Dangerous Visions, and to see from your comment that there is Ellison love among the 'Pinship.

Anyway, I think "curmudgeon" is a fair and accurate descriptor.


@ru_ri I hear you. I have so many of his books, I think I own some of his stories upwards of ten times in different collections. Can't...stop...buying...anthologies.


@Kristen YES. Exactly. That is my main issue with it. It's not for everyone, apparently! You can only separate the two if it's a certain KIND of artist. Also, fuck you, no, I will not separate the two if the two are deeply linked. If a guy writes brilliant novels full of violent sexist bullshit and he is also a violent sexist asshole in real life, why the hell would I separate those two things when they are clearly so connected?

God at the risk of going full on Tumblr, you see this with villian characters in TV and movies as well in real life (cause seriously some people who produce good work could basically be fictional villians, they are that bad). Attractive white male? Let's write an essay excusing his bad behavior cause FEELINGS! Any other sex/ethnicity? *mob with torches!*


@Kristen Goddamn, DFW: “One day, Karr remembers, he arrived at a pool party she was at with her family with bandages on his left shoulder.” Underneath? “A tattoo of her name and a heart.” What a fucking creepy and intimidating thing to do. And then! The scariest part of Max’s account, though, is one that does not appear in Karr’s memoir, because she didn’t know about it. At one point, Wallace contacted an ex-con and tried to make arrangements to buy a gun: “He had decided he would wait no longer for Karr to leave her husband; he planned to shoot him instead.” (The ex-con reported him and Wallace never showed up to the meeting.) YIKES.

Thanks for sharing that/don't you dare apologize for self-promoting, you're not a spambot but a smart person!

Also I really want to read that biography now.


@PatatasBravas @PatatasBravas Thanks! I wholeheartedly endorse the biography - I thought that Max was really evenhanded and wise in his treatment of Wallace, which was why I was so blown away when I read so many reviews that seemed to sail past all the awfulness that was right there on the page.


@Kristen What a great piece, thanks so much for sharing it! I don't have much new to add besides general distaste for the leeway given to white male writers in their personal lives (or white male painters, musicians, etc) while basically any other permutation is "flawed" or "reprehensible" for doing the exact same shit. DFW in particular seems to attract this kind of idolatry and and I know too many young guys who fervently admire him and over-identify with him, which is....really fucking creepy and unhealthy, to say the least. Gah sorry it's early and I am pre-coffee but your article managed to articulate a lot of my anti-DFW feels, so thank you!

Judith Slutler

@Kristen That really is a great piece. Damn.


@Emmanuelle Cunt @martini pie I'm so glad you liked it!


@Ialdagorth Attractive white male? Let's write an essay excusing his bad behavior cause FEELINGS! Any other sex/ethnicity? *mob with torches!*

This. When white guys get angry/do fucked up things, they are just acting like passionate, complicated human beings, but when minorities do anything wrong they aren't passionate and complicated, they're just angry/fucked up. Women shouldn't even try, when we get angry we're just being "hysterical".


I just went and read AHP's Paul Newman article to cleanse my palate. What a terrible, terrible person Carver was.


@PatatasBravas Ahhh, Paul Newman was really just the best. I will also re-read that article (for the seventh or eighth time...).

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@PatatasBravas I'm reminded of his general excellence every time I buy salad dressing.


I'm the worst: I mix up Raymond Carver and Raymond Chandler alllllll theeeeee tiiiiiiiime. (But I'm not really much of a Raymond Carver person, so maybe it's okay?)


@werewolfbarmitzvah Here's how you can remember: Raymond Chandler wrote mysteries, and Raymond Carver never wrote a sentence longer than 10 words. Or else, his editor made him that way. It's a weird literary debate.

Ham Snadwich

@werewolfbarmitzvah - Somehow I've confused him with Raymond Chandler, who I, in turn, conflated with Mickey Spillane somehow. My first thought was "Raymond Carver? Who cares! Those Mike Hammer books were all garbage."


Finally a "socially appropriate" reason to hate Raymond Carver


what we talk about when we talk about uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh


@melis At long last, I have an excuse for disliking him.

Jolly Farton

@melis UGH YES soooo much hate (irrational? not anymore! cuz he was an ASSHOLE)

"Now what?"


Can we like books and not like their writers? Can we separate the two? I think we can. Or at least, I think *I* can. I've never romanticized or idolized a writer, though I may have loved their work. Their private lives only interest me in as much as they're another story.

Edit: It's the same with artists and actors, I think.


@sprayfaint I mean, sure. As long as you apply that evenly, to every author, and don't break it down on gender/race/sexuality/whatever lines.

I don't know that *I* want to separate them all of the time, though. Personal differences!


@sprayfaint I think you can separate them, as long as, like PatatasBravas said, we apply it across the board. I also think it's worthwhile to realize that their personal lives can be problematic, and recognize our own hypocrisy in that regard.

I mean, Yeats is my absolute favorite, but I'm still forced to confront the nature of his minor weird misogyny and his fascist leanings/love of eugenics. I mean, you still have to confront the fact that artists are informed by their personal lives, opinions, and experiences.


@sprayfaint I don't know. I can't be consistent about it sometimes. My main sticking point is with Orson Scott Card, which is why I haven't read anything of his in years. (And hey, if I went back and reread some of his stuff, maybe I'd be less impressed than I was in high school anyway...)


@PatatasBravas All I can think about is old white men, unfortunately (Roman Polanski comes to mind).


@sprayfaint Roman Polanski came to my mind as well. He, I think, is made an even more complicated figure due to the murder of his wife.

ETA: But the biggest problem I have with Polanski is not just that he did a horrible thing, but that he's been running from the consequences for 40 years. If I hear another person say, "Well, he paid his due," I will punch them in the face because he most definitely did not.

Better to Eat You With

@sprayfaint When an utter and complete asshole gets his/her perspective on the page, there can be a lot of value in the work that results. I've never liked a Carver character--never, especially the men--but I'm glad the work exists, that the particular reality of those lives is represented in fiction. I wouldn't want to hang out with his characters, or to have hung out with him during his lifetime, but the work expands my perspective in ways I wouldn't experience otherwise. (This is the same ambivalent relationship I have with the work of all the male writers I've been instructed to love.)


@sprayfaint But it's so difficult to separate evenly, maybe even impossible. And (assuming as PB said, it's not based on existing biases) I don't even know if that's a fair rule? For me, it really depends on a lot of factors: the quality of their work, how strongly I feel about their "crime" (e.g., being an asshole to fans vs hitting your wife), how I find out about it, whether it's related to their work (I don't think the Sylvia Plath example is a good one, for example, because she wrote such autobiographical stuff), the context in which they worked (if a 19th century author was sexist by our standards, is that a fair judgement?). It's so complicated, I don't have any hard and fast rule.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@sprayfaint If I know that a certain author is an asshole, and this asshole is still alive, I won't read their books because I impart judgement with my wallet.



someone get melis and her flames ready


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Or just buy their books used :)


@PatatasBravas Usually other actors. I hate them.


@meetapossum God, and the list of actors who support him is so disappointing. I've heard only one story of an actor taking herself off his ridiculous petition of supporters, or whatever the hell is was, because a fan gave her a good talking to. The actress in question was Emma Thompson, because Emma Thompson is awesome and realized she was completely and utterly wrong to back him. Still though, the list is long and upsetting.


@katiemcgillicuddy I tried to come up with my personal philosophy on this at the time, and what I determined was that it was one thing if they decided to act in his films (this sort of aligns with what I said above -- the artwork is separate from the man), but decidedly *not* OK to sign a support petition, which was in fact directed at the man and not the art. I don't know if that's rationalization, and it probably wouldn't take much to convince me otherwise...


@gobblegirl "I don't think the Sylvia Plath example is a good one, for example, because she wrote such autobiographical stuff" ... BINGO. Exactly. Plath only hurt herself. What female writer can we compare to Carver? Is there one? I'm SURE there has to be a brilliant female writer who has done terrible things in her life, right? I'm sure she exists but we don't know about the terrible things she's done. Why? Why do we paint female writers (and other artists) as saints, weirdos or long suffering victims?


@sprayfaint I think I'm with you on that. I can separate the artist's work from the artist's life, but signing a petition on behalf of Roman Polanski is basically agreeing with Whoopi Goldberg's classic "it wasn't 'rape rape'" defense, and that is absolutely deplorable and unacceptable.


@skyslang I tried to google this and just came up with another long list of terrible male writers (including, apparently, Dickens): http://incharacter.org/review/good-writers-bad-men-does-it-matter/

Edit: I GOT IT! Edith Wharton. I recently read her autobiography for my book club and it was patently obvious how little she liked her husband. He is mentioned maybe twice in the entire book, while she goes on and on about her other male friends throughout. He suffered from depression, and she eventually left him (most likely cheated on him often as well). Does that count?

Pound of Salt

In the interview when they talk about how important it is to readers these days that characters be likeable - I agree that it's a total shame.

But then I remember a book like I Am Charlotte Simmons, which I thought was just terrible, precisely because every single person was awful. But I think that's more like, why bother engaging in a story that's bleak with no point? Not that they should be punished in the end, but it's not very challenging to the reader to throw up your hands, "Eh, awful people are awful, the end."

That said, really excited to read this novel!


@Pound of Salt I don't think all characters need to be nice, but there has to be some element of humanity there, an understanding of how they got to be so unlikeable, in order to make it bearable. If I am going to spend 400 pages with a character, I'd prefer they weren't an unremitting jerk for no reason. I don't have to like them, but I have to be able to give a shit about what happens to them.
(Obviously this doesn't apply to true-crime serial killer books).

Pound of Salt

@gobblegirl totally agree! Like something has to resonate with the reader, or make us confront our own shitty actions. They have to be human.

Emily Gould

I got paranoid that this was somehow inaccurate after I posted it, but nope, here it is, in his Times obit (written by Stephen King!): http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/books/review/King-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 "After Maryann indulged in “a tipsy flirtation” at a dinner party in 1975 — by which time Carver’s alcoholism had reached the full-blown stage — he hit her upside the head with a wine bottle, severing an artery near her ear and almost killing her."

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Emily Gould I hate the post-clicking-publish paranoia.


Now I'm thinking a lot about this. I know that Carver's abuse is something that should be talked about, but I'm not so sure if Plath is a good point of comparison. Her death is in the forefront in our minds due to the personal nature of her work. I also think of DFW, Hemingway, and Woolf in terms of their suicides.

We talk about the personal lives of writers all the time in the context of their work (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda come to mind). Do we not view Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin within the context of their own times and lives? Do we not view James Joyce in the context of his life in exile? Everyone is complicated. Are there writers of any gender or race that are explicitly called out or shunned because of their personal lives? I can't think of any. (I'm leaving this at writers, because actors and sports figures are another kettle of fish.)


@meetapossum Yes, exactly, and many/most of the writers you mention in your post - Joyce, Woolf, Hemingway, DFW - have a profile particularly because of their craft and innovation in form even more than their personal point of view. Baldwin, Ellison, Wright are trickier: they're read usually as point of view writers with strong clarion voices, I personally know less about their formal qualities.

But the point for me is that if you're always looking only at the personal qualities of the writer instead of primarily at their work, you're approaching from a sentimentalist direction, you might be missing out. I feel like contemporary female reading audiences are sold/marketed the sentimentalist point of view package so hardcore that we end up with this gross division, where women supposedly read point of view novels and men supposedly read craft oriented novels (ie, "literature"). It's a bunch of bullshit.


@vunder "But the point for me is that if you're always looking only at the personal qualities of the writer instead of primarily at their work, you're approaching from a sentimentalist direction, you might be missing out."

Definitely! It's a really complicated issue. Does the quality of the art excuse a shitty person? No, but do then we need to, as a society or as individuals have to forsake that art because of the author's personal life? I don't think so. I think as long as I recognize this dichotomy and address it, I have succeeded in some degree. Acceptance of the art doesn't always mean an excuse of terrible behavior.

There are many people who feel differently, but I think we are large, we contain multitudes, etc.


how has this gem not been posted yet: http://www.theonion.com/articles/ask-raymond-carver,12208/


@christonacracker So awesome.


To be fair, the reasons that Plath's personal life is not separated from her literary works are:
- she specifically mined her mental health and interior life as a topic
- she doesn't have that much else to offer. I'm not just trying to be a jerk here, but I'm not sure even her defenders would offer her as a paragon of innovation and craft, more as a writer attempting to express qualities of feeling

So, awful as Carver may be, I don't think it's sexism that motivates his admirers to focus on his craft rather than his personal life.


@vunder I agree that Plath was a bad example - but I think the sexism argument does apply to writers like Woolf or Parker.


@gobblegirl Really? I mean, I personally cannot read Woolf (because I find her so lugubrious) but I felt she was taught to me in terms of formal qualities more than point of view (though, yes, point of view was incorporated). I think there are ways in which serious readers, especially (but not only) white and male, don't make the effort to absorb nonwhite or female writers and maybe dismiss them out of hand or start them a few yards back in the race, but I find that the "I don't like this writer because this person was awful" to be simplistic and wrongheaded. I think you have to show that that reprehensible quality is found in the writing and that it brings down (rather than up) the quality of the work. There is a lot upthread about DFW. To me, he's an example of someone who mined his mental illness for the good of his craft, no matter now nuts and awful he may have been personally. Some do it well, some don't. I think you have to start from the writing to figure it out.


Just came down here to say: I am smarter because of the Hairpin. <3


Thanks for posting about this novel (and linking to the author interview, which is brilliant!), and thanks to fellow 'Pinners for such a wonderfully insightful conversation!

Tameka (BloggerPoet)@twitter

I never knew this about Carver, but I guess that was the point. Paula Bomer sounds like my kind of lady! She's definitely someone who would love Venus Blogs: http://venusblogs.com/?s=books


Yes! I did my dissertation on him and read a couple of biographies.

It was really interesting to see how many of Carver's stories wre actually drawn from his real life experiences.

There was also some violent rage involving a frying pan and a window, I think. His alcoholism didn't help. Maryann also did a lot of backbreaking boring jobs to bring home some regular money while he kept dropping in and out of courses and writing. He expresses a lot of regret in his later poetry for being a terrible father and husband, but I think at least one of his children said he could never forgive him.


An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers madeira palsticaqM


Thank you for sharing this wonderful article! I have never seen anything like that before so I really appreciate that. Friendship day messages

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