In December of 2007, The New Yorker published an earlier draft of Raymond Carver’s seminal short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” a piece famous for its minimalist ruminations on love and the use of exterior perception. This initial draft — titled “Beginners” — was interpreted by many as an example of the hand that Carver’s editor Gordon Lish had in the cultivation of Carver’s iconic writing style. Significant chunks — pages — were extricated from “Beginners,” and certain prosaic edits were purportedly written by Lish himself. In retrospect, it is no surprise that Carver eventually severed ties with Lish.
My grandfather was good friends with Carver during his lifetime. Although they were not able to visit each other often, they wrote to each other extensively. I had heard snippets about their relationship in passing, but had never been presented with any evidentiary support. This, however, has recently changed. A few month ago, I went back home to help my mother pack up our old house for her move to Florida. While itemizing the bric-a-brac in our attic, I came across a small wooden chest. Upon rooting through it, I discovered the letters that Carver had written to my grandfather and vice-versa. In addition to this, I found even earlier drafts of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” — those that had been rejected by Lish. The following excerpts are taken from six respective versions.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Incubus
Terri said the man she lived with before she lived with Mel was Brandon Boyd from the band Incubus. Then Terri said, “He had the build of a swimmer with abs on steroids. He dragged me around to practice after practice, show after show. He kept saying, “Whatever tomorrow brings, I’ll be there, bitch.” Terri looked around the table. What do you do with a multi-platinum band like that?”
What We Talk About When We Talk About Tony Danza
“I just wouldn’t call Tony Danza the boss. That’s all I’m saying, honey,” Mel said. “What about you guys?” Mel said to Laura and me. “Who exactly was the boss?”
“I’m the wrong person to ask,” I said. I never watched Who’s the Boss? I’ve only seen ‘The Garbage-Picking, Field-Goal-Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon.’ I wouldn’t know. But didn’t Elton John write a song about him? ‘Hold me closer, Tony Danza?’ Didn’t they sing that on Friends?”
Mel said, “The kind of boss I’m talking about is. The kind of boss I’m talking about, you don’t have to try to be the boss.”
Laura said, “I don’t know anything about Tony Danza, or anything about the situation. But who can judge anyone else’s sitcom?”
What We Talk About When We Talk About “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
“I feel sorry for him,” Terri said, “and her. The family in the book, I mean. I’ve never seen the movie.”
“It sounds like a nightmare,” Laura said. “Tilda Swinton scares me. She looks like an androgynous sexy alien.”
Laura is a legal secretary. We’d met in a professional capacity. Before we knew it, I took her on our first date to see the Keanu Reeves movie Constantine. Little did I know that she hated demons, wooden acting, bad CGI, and Tilda Swinton decked out as a half-breed angel would terminate the date early. In addition to being in love, we avoid Tilda Swinton movies at all costs.
“Who was that book written by?” Laura said.
Mel said, “A guy named Lionel Shriver.”
Terri said, “Lionel Shriver is a chick.”
Mel put his hands behind his neck and tilted his chair back — after all, he was probably right.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Last Week’s Episode of Glee
“Well, Nick and I watch Glee every Tuesday,” Laura said. “You’re supposed to say something now,” Laura said, and turned her smile on me. I saw how much she resembled a heterosexual Jane Lynch when she smiled, and made a note never to make that comparison again, for fear of my future libido. Viagra is a tough investment.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Salt-n-Pepa Talking About Sex
“What do any of us really know about love?” Mel said. “It seems to me we’re just beginners at love […] physical love, that impulse that drives you to someone special. So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about sex, baby. Ladies, louder now, help me out. Let’s talk about Terri. Lawyers, doctors, no one was too great with her to get with. Or even mess with! But she was mad and sad, and feeling bad, just thinking about the things she never had. And then when we met? That last night was dope.”
“Truth,” said Terri.
What We Talk About When We Talk About 4Loko
“4Loko’s gone,” Mel said.
Terri said, “Now what?”
I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. And I realized that the urban myth was true, and our hearts exploded.