Picks and Pans Review: Carver Country

UPDATED 01/14/1991 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/14/1991 at 01:00 AM EST

Photographs by Bob Adelman

There's a picture on the inside cover of this sensitive, revealing photographic tribute to poet-novelist-short story writer Raymond Carver of a message the writer hastily jotted to himself in the spiral notebook he carried. In the bone-clean style that Carver was noted for, it says, "Write stories."

That simple reminder cuts straight to the core of Carver's tragic but ultimately triumphant life and career. Among the pioneers of minimalist fiction, Carver knew firsthand of the sorrow-filled, comfortless world about which he wrote. Raised in the lumber town of Yakima, Wash., he married out of high school and worked as a truck driver, janitor and tulip picker while sending out stories. Booze was kinder to him than New York City editors. "But I recovered," he said in 1987, "and pulled my socks up, and so much of that is due to Tess."

Tess is poet Tess Gallagher, who became Carvers companion in 1977. married him in 1988 and, said Carver, "changed my life forever." Gallagher's emotional, in-depth introduction to this book should help anyone who appreciated such Carver stories as "Cathedral" and "Why Don't You Dance?" to appreciate Adelman's work.

Adelman is a New York City-based photographer whose work has appeared in LIFE, the London Times magazine and Esquire. His pictures of Carver are most effective when they peer directly into Carver's sad, dark eyes, the scribbled pages of his writer's notebooks and, of course, Gallagher's face. His text, taken from Carver's letters, stories and poems, tells why this gentle man was so universally mourned when he died from lung cancer at age 50 in 1988.

In a posthumously published poem, "Gravy," Carver asked not to be pitied: "Don't weep for me...I'm a lucky man. I've had 10 years longer than I or anyone expected. Pure gravy. And don't forget it."

This collection is a worthy tribute. Better still is the literature that inspired it. (Scribner's, $35)

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