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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Go West Young Man--Review of Raymond Carver--A Writers life

Every writer has to find his way. That is the nub of writing fiction. There is no clear path generally speaking and so it becomes a make it up as you go right from the start. When you read a biography of a writer, part of the mystery and the curiosity centers around how did he or she do it and what type of path did they follow to publication and beyond. After reading Ray Caver's biography, I came away with one overpowering sentiment for the aspiring writer--Go West Young Man. Go to Iowa. Go to California.

For those of us who did not follow this mantra we are forever wondering what if. John Irving, Cheever, Wolff, Oates, There were so many writers at Iowa Writers Workshop during Carvers time it is hard to read because he had such good fortune to be around them and one hears the drum again of now why didn't I do that? Of course the biggest plum for Carver was meeting Gordon Lish who then went onto New York to publish Carver in Esquire and then at Knopf. During all this Raymond Carver is a raging alcoholic and still his career marched on.

Ray Carver had very hard times. Extremely hard times. He nearly killed his wife in a drunken rage, his family was torn apart, he literally had no money during long periods of his life, but he managed to mix it up with just about every major writer of his time. This is an amazing thing for a writer. This cross-polinization is critical for developing writers at any stage but particularly in the early years. Surely the Hemingway years on the Left Bank proved the point. And Carver certainly had his own Left bank between the University of Iowa and Universities in California.

For the rest of us who hacked out our path in major cities like Chicago we can only wonder at the great good fortune of someone like Raymond Carver who went through hell in his personal life, but seemed to be at the nexus of literary good fortune at precisely the right moments. Still, one has to follow the path given and so it is useless really to second guess the career of any writer. Certainly few could have survived the searing hell of alcoholism that Raymond Carver went though. But at the end, after his early death from lung cancer, he left behind a sizable amount of work and an incredible legend and if I had to pull one salient lesson from his life, it would be to go where the action is...go where great writers are trying to do great things. Just go.

William Hazelgrove's latest novel is Rocket Man. His highly praised first three novels Ripples, (Pantonne) LJ highly recommended, ALA Editors Choice, Tobacco Sticks, (Bantam, Best Novels of the Nineties Doris Lesher, Starred Review PW, LJ highly recommended) and Mica Highways, (Bantam,) covered the scope of a coming of age, a courtroom drama set in Virginia in the forties, and a mystery set in the South. Rocket Man is a satire about a man struggling to keep his home. William Hazelgrove is the Hemingway writer in residence for the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park. He has written reviews and features for USA TODAY and been the subject of stories in the NY Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and NPR'S All Things Considered.. More information can be gathered at

Books by William Hazelgrove