Maryann Burk Carver met Raymond Carver in 1955, when she was fifteen-years-old and he seventeen. In What It Used to be Like, Maryann Burk Carver recounts a tale of love at first sight in which the two teenagers got to know each other by sharing a two year long-distance correspondence that soon after found them married and with two small children.
Over the next twenty-five years, as Carver's fame grew, the family led a nomadic life, moving from school to school, teaching post to teaching post. Finally, in 1972, they settled in Cupertino, California where Raymond Carver gave his wife one of his sharpened pencils and bade her to write an account of their history. The result is a breathtaking memoir of a marriage replete with the intimacy of detail that fully reveals the illnesses and talents of this larger than life man, his complicated relationships, and his profound loves and losses.
What It Used to Be Like brings to light, for the first time, Raymond Carver's lost years and stories and the "stories behind the stories" of this most brilliant writer.
MARYANN BURK CARVER married Raymond Carver when she was sixteen and he was nineteen. They were married for twenty-five years, and had two children, Christi and Vance. Maryann Burk Carver is a teacher living on Lummi Island in Washington State.
"Maryann covers the tumultuous circumstances of her 18 years of marriage to Raymond Carver in page after page that may be easily construed as plot outlines for Carver's early short story masterpieces."
--Sam Halpert, author of Raymond Carver: An Oral Biography and A Real Good War
"Ray Carver had a brilliant and heartbreakingly brief career. Seventeen years after his death, we still miss him like crazy. Mary Ann Carver, his first wife, tells the story of how she and he fell through the ice with honesty and considerable courage."
--William Kittredge, author of Hole in the Sky and The Best Short Stories of William Kittredge
"The marriage between Ray carver and Maryann Burk which commenced when they were teenagers and lasted 25 years, was absurd, tenacious, and sometimes cruel. There was much partying and aimless wandering. Unfathomable decisions were made. Yet the marriage was also the bedrock beneath a small earthquake in the American short story A humble agent transubstantiational in its effect. This is a dear, sturdy, disarming memoir which proves, at the very least, that even dead 18 years, the masterful Ray Carver knows how to keep the love of a good woman.
--Joy Williams, author of The Quick and the Dead and Honored Guest
"A testimony of a marriage as well as a portrait of an artist before becoming ‘The Author.’ It is the story of the hunger for education, the necessity of art, in the lives of the working poor. I hope it helps dispel myths about working-class writers, about the creative/destructive spirit, about violence and love. For folks who live paycheck to paycheck, for readers whose books are all stamped ‘Property of the Public Library,’ this story is only too familiar.”
--Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street and Caramelo
“Good writers write what they know, but great writers show us what they know to be true. Raymond and Maryann Burk Carver dared to be great in America and, in the end, both paid a terrible price. ‘It’s an amazing life, an amazing life,’ Raymond Carver once said. Indeed it was. And it will break your heart because, like all great stories, it is true.”
--Diane Smith, author of Letters from Yellowstone and Pictures from an Expedition
“Raymond Carver is one of the very best writer’s of the late 20th century. He met his first wife, Maryann Burk, when he was sixteen and she was fourteen. Her memoir of their nearly twenty-five years together is an incredible account not only of their relationship, but also of Carver’s development as a writer. It is indispensable to anyone who cares about Carver’s work.”