Anyone familiar with Raymond Carver’s reputation for pared-down fiction will find the first paragraph of this collection’s first story disconcerting. ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ begins with a twenty-six-line slab of prose that occupies most of a page, listing the furniture and other items ‘the boy’ and ‘the girl’ hope to sell in a yard sale. Far from being minimalist, it could be, suitably adjusted, a typically wordy, cluttered chapter opening by a nineteenth-century maximalist such as Balzac.
Gordon Lish, Carver’s highly interventionist editor at Knopf, contented himself here with breaking up the single paragraph. We know this because Beginners contains the stories of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981) as submitted by the author, before Lish set about carving up Carver.