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Lives of Quiet Desperation
on 21 April 2015
This is Carver's earliest collection, but his trademark sparse prose and the gritty kitchen sink setting of his stories are already indelibly stamped. In the first story "Fat", a waitress tells a seemingly pointless story about an extremely heavyset customer she served at the diner, but through her narration, the reader learns more about her and the quiet desperation she feels about her own life. And that is Carver-style, in the way he draws his reader's gaze on the seemingly innocuous, only to reveal the importance of the periphery.
In one of the more famous stories in this collection, "Neighbors", an unhappy couple find themselves slowly developing an obsession with a couple they envy across the hall, to the point they start to inhabit their home and their lives. A boy plays hooky to go fishing, and finds that while he can bring home the biggest catch, he finds he cannot confront the truth of his parents' failing marriage and his own intense loneliness in "Nobody Said Anything".
Elsewhere, the stories are full of men and women who talk but are not able to communicate, and when words prove meaningless, violence threatens to surface. Carver excels at painting working-class characters, who are living hand to mouth, and just making do, sometimes trying and failing, or on the brink of despair. The pain is never melodramatic, but quietly borne. The vacuum of their lives are filled with knick knacks and ordinary objects that litter their living spaces, holding their attention when staring their problems head-on proves too hard and distressing.