on 29 March 2006
The is the first I have read of Raymond Carver's and I picked it up to read on holiday as I thought short stories would be better to dip in and out of plus, I have only ever heard good things about Carver and had always meant to get round to reading some of his work. This is a collection of his short stories, previously published in seperate collections. He says in the introduction, written shortly before he died, that these stories are put together in the order that he felt suited. He also says in the intro that he "loves the swift leap of a good story, the ecitement that often commences int he first sentence, the sense of beauty and mystery found in the best of them...that the story can be written and read in one sitting" - that really summed up for me how important short stories can be and also why I am dismayed how they are overlooked by alot of the reading public. From this quote I was sure that I was in for a treat.
The themes covered in these stories are love, loss, marriage, betrayal, beer and fishing. He really does write the miniutae of life beautifully and finds the extraordinary in the ordinary. Some of the stories don't really have a sense of closure but they are so beautiful and haunting that it doesn't matter. One story about a boy who is knocked down by a hit and run driver actually had me in tears and I had to put it down for a while before reading on.
I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates good writing and feels like getting lost for a while. I think I can honestly say that I have never read a better short story collection and will definitely be looking out for more of his work. These stories are really a benchmark for short story writing and hope that some of you give it a go.
on 22 February 2004
It is possibly the hardest and best thing that a writer can do to find the very big in the very small but Carver made a career out of doing just that and this is a definitive collection of his efforts. His characters are simply everyday people doing everyday things but their lives pivot on events that illuminate the greater truths in operation all around us. There is often a sense in these shorts that we are looking through windows or into back-gardens, that we are eavesdropping on our suburban neighbours. The lives of others will always be essentially unknowable to us but Carver gives some consolation that they feel the same hurts, struggle through the same frustrations, and have the same moments of intimation of sad and senseless mortality that we all do. Stories like “Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes”, written in a sparse muscular prose style, read almost like modern-day parables, like snapshots of the unexpected moments in life. Later pieces, like “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love”, have that rare quality to make you feel more like you are listening to a story being told than that you are actually reading at all. This collection ultimately becomes far more than the sum of its parts and it will live out a long and well-thumbed life in your library.
"I love the swift leap of a good story, the excitement that often commences in the first sentence, the sense of beauty and mystery found in the best of them; and the fact - so crucially important to me back at the beginning and now still a consideration - that the story can be written and read in one sitting." (from foreword in Where I'm Calling From, 1998)
Raymond Carver's short fiction is often placed in the realistic tradition of Stephen Crane and Ernest Hemingway. Also, given the often muted, anticlimactic atmosphere of the prose there is a tension which is reminiscent of either Franz Kafka or Harold Pinter.
A motif within Carver's works is the issue of love, or, more precisely, the issue of love and its absence, and the bearing of love's absence on marriage and individual identity. He depicts the quiet desperation of white-and-blue-collar workers, salesmen and waitresses, and their sense of betrayal at being unable to express themselves. Things are frequently left unspoken and conflicts unresolved, and the meaning of the story is often only revealed through implications. In particular, his portrayals of marriage problems are full of emotional tension, hidden memories, wounds, longing, hate, anxiety, and melancholy.
"It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader's spine - the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it. That's the kind of writing that most interests me." (Carver in The New York Times, February 15, 1981)
This particular collection, Where I'm Calling From, published posthumously, contains a good selection, containing stories from Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? Cathedral and all seven stories from Elephant. Though, having said that, a better introduction to his stories would probably just be a copy of Cathedral. That way you wont have to buy any repeats.
on 10 December 2006
This is the first Raymond Carver I've ever picked up and I did so based on my appreciation of Robert Altman's Short Cuts. If you liked that film, you will be bowled over by this collection of short stories. The thing that unites all these stories for me is the way they end. There is no denouement, no expected ending whatsoever. They just end and leave you hanging, wondering what the hell happened there. They are flashes, blurry photos that you look at, put down, pick up again and scratch your head at.
My favourite story is Why Don't You Dance? A story of a man who, at his garage sale, meets a young couple and provides them with a short but memorable encounter; a fable about people, strangers in this case, and how they can provide unimaginable inspiration to each other by simply not following the written rulebook on expected behaviours.
In the end, it's all a bit like an Edward Hopper painting. You're left wondering what took place prior to and after the moment the artist has captured.
on 12 June 2003
Raymond Carver, and the stories in this collection in particular, opened my eyes and mind to literature. His stories are told simply and beautifully. They are accessible to all readers and can be taken on all kinds of levels. I first read "Where I'm Calling From" (the story) when I was 15, and my love of this man's works has not stopped: in fact I completed a dissertation on his works a couple of years ago.
This collection is the best place to start, but be warned, you could find yourself buying these stories again as you go out and by the respective collections that Carver issued in his earlier career! Best stories include 'Fat,' 'The Calm' and 'Cathedral.' The latter is truly powerful, and although apparently a little different from other Carver stories, it really sums up his whole writing/storytelling agenda (which is certainly not a dogma or forced overstated thing -- you take whatever you want to take when you read a Carver story.)
There's also a touching little introduction from the author himself.
If you like Hemmingway, or Chekhov or V.S Pritchett, give Carver a go: if you know this collection already, next step could be Carver's 'Fires.' As it says in an excerpt on the back cover "Read everything Carver ever wrote."
on 10 March 2007
Where I'm Calling From is a collection of solidly good short stories but also a kind of autobiography. This was a man, remember, who, like Bukowski, had lived all the arguments and alcohol. You get the feeling, reading his stories back to back, that he just wanted to work out all his frustration at being for so long "your basic, normal, unaccomplished person". His characters all argue too much, drink too much, laugh at each other, fall broke, run away with boyfriends, sleep too little, and generally sing dispossession.
He gets this all out with his `Dirty Realism', reliant on short, physical sentences the accuracy of which recalls the stark realism of a Hopper painting. He saturates his stories with a forlorn solitude of neighbours and broken relationships; people stand fixed and mute at the telephone (as in Boxes, and Elephant); some are transfixed by neighbours coming and going; some hide, watching the world from behind curtains. In the later story, Menudo, he even recreates the stillness of a vanitas: "...a jar of metamucil, two grapefruits, a carton of cottage cheese, a quart of buttermilk, some potatoes and onions, and a package of ground meat that was beginning to change colour. Boy! I cried when I saw those things. I couldn't stop."
It was said of Chekhov, "He often expressed his thought not in speeches, but in pauses or between the lines or in replies consisting of a single word . . . the characters often feel and think things not expressed in the lines they speak". Similarly, Carver's technique, which relies so much on context for meaning, circumscribes his characters whilst we fill in the rest. The narrator of Intimacy, for example, has about ten lines in the whole story but his uneasy catharsis by the end is palpable. Even the baker of A Small, Good Thing, who is hardly there, we end up sympathising with completely. We manage to care about each of his characters, because we can somehow see ourselves stuck in the same world.
My personal favourites are Cathedral and Intimacy; they both re-work the main character's assumptions, and are good examples of what Carver calls the `enrichment' of his later writing, after all the hell-fire of alcoholism and unaccomplishment had passed behind him.
on 16 August 2007
These short stories are simply brilliant! Carver writes about those tipping points in life, the moment when the effort to keep it all together gets too much, when the awkwardness can no longer be avoided. The dialogue is so convincing.... like a tape recorder which has been left running. The stories are told simply and honestly which belies their depth - human weakness is brought to the surface and whole lives are exposed.
The stories are mainly set in America's West Coast, but far from what you might expect - none of LA's glamour, fame and fortune to distract or hide in. No, these are ordinary people, their flaws do not seem excessive but their consequences bite. There are themes of breakdown, separation, isolation and alcohol, but there is also a diversity making each story unique.
In a story appropriately called 'Intimacy' we appear to come closest to the author, and the quote "I admit I hold to to dark view of things. Sometimes, anyway. But regret? I don't think so." But I don't find the stories altogether pessimistic or gloomy, there is a facing up to the truth which appears a positive step, even if there are no answers and the powers against seem over-whelming. (Samuel Beckett?)
Many of the stories have been blended into the equally brilliant and unique film 'Short Cuts,' so if you are familiar with the film you will certainly suffer flashbacks when reading the stories! To my mind, a small distraction and an added dimension.
on 18 May 2008
Have you ever had one of those Blair moments when after weeks of being nice to everyone you have to finally make a decision which means that enemies are made as they see a must have dismissed? Well this is one of those moments. I have been struggling with Raymond Carver's "Where I'm Calling From" a collection of thirty-seven stories chosen from several previous collections published over 20 odd years which should therefore be an ideal introduction to his work. And... wait for it... I am going to abandon it unfinished half way despite him being seen As "the American Chekhov or the laureate of the dispossessed"
Let me say up front, that his prose, ear for dialogue and depiction of the ordinariness of every day life masking unexpressed pain and joy is the best. His stories are like photos that capture the moment frozen with no past or future with all the ambiguity that the unknown allows the reader/observer. The opposite of Norman Rockwell homeliness, more akin to the photos of Walker Evans of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. But they have no plot, twists, surprises, or surface complexity of character. These are often blue collar workers in small-town or rural settings struggling with jobs, partners, children and booze and it's the unsaid that reveals more then the fractured words.
The stories reflect his own drink problems and failed jobs and marriage in his 20s so he turned to writing to escape and short stories could get something in quickly to pay the rent and get food on the table. His life did begin to turn around and his work started to get critical alarm in his 40's before he died of lung cancer. His accessible prose, realistic situations and comprehensible characters are seen as a counter to egghead experimentalism
But for me, I was left all too often thinking yes and what happens next even while the image created hung in my head. I also think that stories ripped from their original magazine context make the stories work harder then they needed to. I would have welcomed an edition that merged the stories with a set of photographs worthy of the writing. However, if you want to dip in and perhaps read a couple a stories a week or if you enjoy short stories then this is a book for you. As you say at the end of a failed relationship its not you it's me, and lets remain friends. Knowing it's really about the lack of passion. Yet the spurned has the chance of real love else where...will that be you?
on 22 May 2012
I think this is possibly the best book I have ever read and I'm not a great fan of short stories. Carver grabs you with despair and all the the small disappointments of life and leaves you touched. Every character is real and their lives ring true. Whenever I finish a book and don't have a new one to start I pick this one up.
on 10 April 2007
The back cover quotes a review that calls Carver the American Chekhov. Even Chekhov could have learned from Carver. As others here have remarked, Carver's Spartan, beautiful prose recalls Hemingway. That and his devastating no nonsense, truthfulness and insights about humans. It has been well documented that Carver's style was moulded by his editor Gordon Lish. I think that is evident only in the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - possibly his most famous collection, but in my view his most uneven and flawed. Lish was a little bitter about Carver's success and talent and popularised this exagerration. I think Carver's achievement with the short story is astonishing. You get that feeling (hopefully temporary) of "...what's the point in reading anyone else now...?" (But then Tobias Wolff saves the day). The introduction by Carver is the best piece of advice about writing that I have read.The more you learn about Carver and his life the more attractive he is as a personality and then you learn some more and realise he was terribly flawed too. Human in other words. But truly, he has the charisma of Steve McQueen or John Lennon. This collection ends with Carver's legendary, dying tribute ("Errand") to his own hero Chevhov. This is one of my most prized literary possessions. It is not the complete stories of Raymond Carver, but a selection by Carver himself of what he estimated as is best work.It is a very well judged selection: Carver left out some of his cruder, less accomplished stories. However, none of these 30 or so stories hits a bum note.