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"I admit I hold to the dark view of things.",
This review is from: Where I'm Calling From: Selected Stories (Paperback)
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.