In a victory of the minimalist over the Maxim-alist, Esquire magazine has turned up three unpublished Raymond Carver stories. Jay Woodruff, a senior editor at Esquire and a friend of Carver's widow, poet Tess Gallagher, told Salon Books that "Kindling" will appear in the magazine's summer fiction issue; "Vandals" and "Dreams" will follow at a later date.
Carver, a perfectionist who would rewrite his stories dozens of times, had left these three in various stages of revision, but none less polished than a fifth draft. Woodruff and Gallagher are confident that the stories have all the right Carver trappings and require only a little "housekeeping."
Woodruff met Carver only once, in 1986, when the future editor was a student at the Iowa Writers' Workshop; at that time he wrote a story about the author of "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" and "Cathedral" for the Christian Science Monitor. But as a fan of Gallagher's poetry, Woodruff worked with her on several projects after Carver's death in 1988 -- first for the University of Iowa Press and then at DoubleTake magazine, where he served as managing editor.
When Woodruff moved to Esquire last year, he suggested getting in touch with Gallagher and running something to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Carver's death. He didn't know what, exactly -- an unpublished fragment, perhaps. "I was wondering if it was just stupidity," Woodruff says. "But I called Tess and we talked about it. It occurred to us that we might be too late." All the same, a few months later Gallagher invited Woodruff to her and Carver's house in Port Angeles, Wash.
"She wanted to look through some of his old files," Woodruff remembers, "but she said that she wasn't ready yet. It was thrilling and terrifying -- a once-in-a-lifetime privilege." After rummaging through a drawer of notes, fragments and false starts, the two pretty much gave up on the idea of a "eureka!" file. "I felt discouraged," he says. "Many of the stories Tess and I found began well but fell off the cliff. But then, toward the end of the day, I heard her say, 'Oh!'"
There are now tentative plans for Knopf or Vintage to reissue the 1992 collection of unpublished Carver stories, "No Heroics, Please," with the three new stories and a new introduction. The stories' initial publication in Esquire will mark a homecoming for Carver, whose work editor Gordon Lish first published in the glossy in 1971. If, as Woodruff thinks, these are the last finished Carver pieces we are likely to see, we can at least be grateful for these small, good things.