Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, June 6, 2011

Raymond Carver: Three of His Most Famous Stories

"Why Don't You Dance"   (1988, 6 pages)
"Cathedral"   (1988, 5 pages)
"Errand" (1988, 5 pages)

Three of Raymond Carver's
Highest Regarded Stories

A few days ago a very kind reader of my blog from India (who does not wish their name mentioned) sent me four collections of short stories, among them Where I Am Calling From (1988) by Raymond Carver.    All of the stories I will post on today are from this collection.  (They were all published prior to this elsewhere.)   I did a bit of research  guided me toward reading the highest regarded stories in the collection.   I had prior to these stories read only one of Carver's works,  'Little Things".    (There is some background information on Carver (1938 to 1988-USA) in my post on that work.)   My first reaction to Carver was that I saw his talent but I did not find I could relate to the people in this story-a dysfunctional couple fighting over their baby.    Carver is on many lists of greatest short story writers and on nearly all lists of greatest American short story writers so I wanted to read more.   I am now fully convinced of the great talent of Carver,  in his ability to create full worlds in just a few lines.    He is commonly called a master of the minimalistic style.    I liked all of the stories I read today and was amazed by his story on the last day in the life of Anton Chekhov, "Errand".    I will just post briefly on each of the three stories.   (At the end of this post I will provide links where you can read two of the three stories.)

"Why Don't You Dance" is a brilliant story as much for what it leaves out as for what it includes.    It is basically about a man on hard times selling his possessions in a yard sale.   He has a very interesting encounter with a couple considering  buying his bed.  It is an alcohol fueled plot. This story also exemplifies the issues I had initially with Carver. I had read that Carver had a very bad drinking and possibly drug problem for many years of his life until he was able to quit drinking with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.    I do not, of course, hold this against a writer, but it seems many of Carver's stories do center around people with serious drinking problems or those whose lives have been degraded by the use of alcohol or drugs.   I do not find this an interesting "slice of life" and it was that prejudice that kept me away from Carver.    I think now Carver's talent is so huge I can overlook this.   In a cynical moment I did think about calling him the Mansfield of the methamphetamine set or the Joyce of the Discount Liquor World parking lot but in truth he is a genius.

"Cathedral" also involved a lot of drinking.    So far it seems hard for people in the stories of Carver to relate to each other sober.    I liked this story a lot for its portrait of a marriage and the reaction of the husband to the blind friend of his wife from many years ago.    Carver is able to do in depth characterizations in just a few sentences.

"Errands" stunned me with its power and sheer audacity.    It is set in Moscow, March 22, 1897 and deals with the death of Anton Chekhov.    In addition to Chekhov, his wife, his good friend Alexi Suvorin (a publisher), Leo Tolstoy,  we meet a doctor,  and an hotel errand boy.   As the story opens Chekhov and his friend are (yes you guessed it) drinking Vodka.    Chekhov, who had tuberculosis, begins to cough up a massive amount of blood.   A doctor arrives and then Leo Tolstoy shows up also.   I will tell no more of this story other than to say Carver has the sheer talent to make things on this terrible day come vividly alive.   It does take great nerve to write a short story about two of the greatest writers who ever lived and Carver makes it work perfectly.      I was very moved by this story and I think anyone who loves the short story will really like "Errand".     It turned me into a Raymond Carver believer.   I will read all of the other stories in the collection, Where I Am Calling From. 

Do you have a favorite Carver short story?

Mel u


ds said...

Mel, once again you've pointed me toward something I've overlooked or forgotten--will have to read "Errand." Carver was a master at portraying the downtrodden. So much power in what is left unsaid: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" and the favorite that you mention "Little Things." Like Hemingway, Carver has been often imitated but never...reached.

Mel u said...

Ds-I wish we could know what Frank O'Connor would think of Carver-he certainly was the spokesman for "submarginal groups"

Kelli Nørgaard said...

Carver has often been called the Post-Modern Hemingway because of his very minimalistic way of writing... of course, I love Ernest LOTS more than RC, but I do admit that his stories are INCREDIBLE to use in the classroom for analysis because they can go so many different directions--all dependent on the reader.

Try "The Pheasant". It is one of my faves and I think you will really like it.. FULLLLLL of symbolism!

@parridhlantern said...

A writer I keep meaning to read on the grounds that his poetry is good & Haruki Murakami not only highly rated (translated his stories) him but was inspired by him, even held him in slight awe when they met.. so thanks for the reminder.

Em said...

I'm glad we can now count you as a Carver fan :)
Em (C'est la vie!

Saacha said...

Carver is one of my favorite authors. I drew an inspiration from him. It is difficult to get all his books here. I try to get it online, but its not available.