Friday, September 23, 2011

Why Don’t You Dance?

Raymond Carver (1938–1988)
From Raymond Carver: Collected Stories

Earlier this year at the Speakeasy blog of The Wall Street Journal, Julie Steinberg asked screenwriter and director Dan Rush what motivated him to turn a 1,600-word Raymond Carver story into a ninety-minute feature film. Rush responded with a description of how the story had haunted him:
After I read it, I started doing commercials, but it just kept sticking with me. The image of this guy, living on the lawn, as if he was living inside. I thought it was kind of an interesting setup for a movie. This is a moment of conflict for everyone to see. This is a crisis. I started asking myself, how did this guy get here? What I can create to put him in this position? Once I get him there, what can I do to get him off the lawn—or not get him off?
The resulting movie, Everything Must Go (featuring Will Ferrell in an atypically austere performance), was released on DVD earlier this month.

“Why Don’t You Dance?,” the story that inspired the film, is the opening selection of Carver’s breakthrough 1981 collection,
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Just two years ago, The Library of America prompted a fresh consideration of Carver’s achievement as a storyteller by publishing in one volume both What We Talk About and the original manuscript for the collection, Beginners. The editors for the LOA volume summarize the difference between the two versions: “As [Carver’s editor Gordon Lish] later said, what struck him in Carver’s writing was ‘a peculiar bleakness.’ To foreground that bleakness, he cut the stories radically, reducing plot, character development, and figurative language to a minimum. Some stories were shortened by a third, several by more than a half, and two by three-quarters of their original length. The overall reduction of the manuscript in word count was 55%.”

About 9% of the eight-page manuscript for “Why Don’t You Dance?” was cut by Lish for its publication in
What We Talk About. The story had appeared previously, in different form, in Quarterly West and The Paris Review. At one point, when the story was submitted to Esquire, Lish had changed its title to “I Am Going to Sit Down,” but this version was never published. We present here the original text, before editing, of Raymond Carver’s story.

This week’s selection was recommended by Greg Martinez of Gainesville, Florida, who reminded us about the release of the movie and suggested we offer the story to
Story of the Week readers. We encourage you to offer your own suggestion—a story, essay, narrative poem, or article from any Library of America volume (which can be found listed here)—along with two or three sentences noting anything that might be of related interest to our readers: a current event, a commemoration, a new publication, etc. Send your recommendation to with the subject line, “Story of the Week idea.” If we use your suggestion, we’ll send you a free Library of America volume of your choice and (with your permission) acknowledge you in the introduction.

In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard. The mattress was stripped and the candy-striped sheets lay beside two pillows on the chiffonier. Except for that, things looked much the way they had in the bedroom— . . . This story is no longer available. Read other recent selections from Story of the Week.