Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Carver. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carver. Show all posts

28 June, 2016

Raymond Carver, "Boxes"

This first-person POV story shows a grown man whose father died a few years earlier and his mother is not happy anywhere, with anything, or anybody. An incessant complainer who lays guilt trips on her son. The old woman has packed her boxes and had them stacked around her house for six months. She moves every few months, sometimes even every month. "Sometimes she'd move out of an apartment house, move to another one a few blocks away, and then, a month later, move back to the place she'd left, only to a different floor or a different side of the building." Jill, the new woman in the narrator's life, tells the narrator that his mother is a "clinger."

My favorite part of the story is that Carver is able to take this annoying woman, extremely annoying woman, and very minutely explain what she does, over and over, but the story does not get stale and repetitive as her behavior does. Is the story about the son or the mother? I think it is about the mother but told by the son and only told by her actions and a few things she says but the son never explains her, he just shows her. We do learn about the son in the way that he deals or doesn't deal with his mother. In the end, he almost takes on the behavior of his dead father.

"Boxes" was first published in The New Yorker in February, 1986.

26 June, 2016

Raymond Carver, "Careful"

We see an alcoholic just after he's left, or been asked to leave, his wife, Inez. One thing I really love about this story is that we're never told explicitly that Lloyd is an alcoholic, but it's clear that his life has spun out of control and yet we don't watch the decline. We see the decline after it's occurred. Or, maybe he has farther to sink? We see Lloyd in his new space doing his best to cope, which is not coping at all. He's now living in the attic space of an old house. The descriptions of the space, the smallness of it, the arrangement of it, show the reader the state of Lloyd's life without ever saying that his life sucks now, but we can feel through these descriptions what his life has become; he's trapped. "He had two rooms and a bath on the top floor of a three-story house. Inside the rooms, the roof slanted down sharply. If he walked around, he had to duck his head."

Inez makes a surprise visit and finds that Lloyd's ear has become clogged, a metaphor that he probably hadn't been listening for years, or a long while anyway. We don't know for a fact that he's been talked to, lectured at, etc. for his drinking problem but we can surmise that he had been. Inez helps him get his ears unplugged and then he becomes afraid that if he sleeps in the wrong position, his ears will get plugged up again. "He knew he couldn't keep from worrying about what might happen when he went to bed. It was just something he'd have to learn to live with." Oh, my gosh. His worries are so misplaced and a relatively small problem is magnified in his mind until that is the only thing he is going to worry about.

"Careful" was first published in Paris Review in 1983.

15 June, 2015

Raymond Carver, "Collectors"

First published in Esquire magazine in 1975. Mr. Slater--it is implied that he lies about his name to the salesman--is at home by himself waiting for a job to land in his lap, "I expected to hear from up north." He waits for the mailman even as he is afraid to answer the door when someone knocks. He finally opens the door to find a vacuum cleaner salesman who claims Mrs. Slater has won a prize, a free carpet cleaning. Well, we all know how that works. It's raining, read cleansing. The salesman's name is Bell as in announcing or ringing or calling attention to.

The story isn't very long, eight pages. Mr. Aubrey Bell enters the house and cleans the carpet and the mattress and pillows. He shows Mr. Slater the dust he's become which is how Mr. Slater feels. "Every day, every night of our lives, we're leaving bits of ourselves, flakes of this and that, behind."

"Mrs. Slater is a winner," implying that the Mr. is not a winner. Mr. Bell changes out of his galoshes and puts on slippers so that he doesn't soil the carpet. He proceeds to clean the bed and carpet. He elicits help from Mr. Slater in the beginning but then Mr. Slater sits in a chair and watches, he's not going to grab agency of his own life. He tells Mr. Bell that he cannot buy a vacuum cleaner nor can he pay the man, even if his life depended on it.

Mr. Bell is a learned man and talks about W.H. Auden, who wrote poems about morality, etc., Voltaire, an Enlightenment writer who critiqued the Catholic church, and Rilke, a poet and famous for a set of encouraging letters.

The story is almost like a baptism, a cleansing, or a rebirth opportunity for Mr. Slater, although he rejects it because he is not capable of purchasing his redemption, and he doesn't seem prepared to take charge of his life. Mr. Bell walks on out the door closing it behind him.

I love Raymond Carver stories because even though they appear to be simple and straight forward, there are many ways to feel about the story or to interpret the story. I don't always clearly state the mysterious and implied and sensed meanings of the stories and that is why they can be read time and time again. Every time I re-read a Carver story it is a different story leaving another imprint.

01 February, 2015

Raymond Carver, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"

“What we Talk About When We Talk About Love” brings up a theme that James Joyce’s “The Dead” illustrates. That is, how someone dead showed their love when alive and had, in one sense or another, died for that love and in the expression of their love. In the short story, “The Dead,” a husband finds out about a long dead young boy who had loved his wife deeply and had died in expressing his love and how his wife had a life, secret and deeply meaningful, that did not include him. The same occurs to Mel in Raymond Carver’s story. Although Mel does not want to admit or agree with his wife that her abusive husband did deeply love her. “Sure, it’s abnormal in most people’s eyes. But he was willing to die for it. He did die for it.” But Mel says, “’I sure as hell wouldn’t call it love.’” This argument continues all evening.
After this evening, I feel that Laura will never see Mel’s love for her in the same way because he wouldn’t or couldn’t concede that, albeit messed up, another man loved Laura so deeply, at least the way she sees it. So is Laura really as lovable as she wants to believe herself to be? “’You can grant me that, can’t you?’” We also see how scared Mel was and probably reinvigorates Laura’s understanding of her new husband’s lack of courage.

 First person point of view / past tense / Albuquerque / sitting around a table with a bottle of gin and an ice bucket in the center / they are all getting more and more drunk / two couples / predominantly dialogue / Dr. Melvin R. McGinnis, Teresa called Terri, Laura, narrator (Nick) /

I read this story again because it is in the new issue of Zoetrope: All-Story. I had to go buy it off the shelf as something has happened to my subscription. Anyway, that aside, I'll use any excuse to read a Raymond Carver story again. This short story was called "Beginners" prior to Gordon Lish's editing.

page 1003
Beginners. Beginners: 33-page manuscript cut by 50% for inclusion in WWTA as "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." PREVIOUS PUBLICATION: A version of "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" that was the product of Lish's second editing of Beginners and his corrections to the printer's manuscript of WWTA appeared in Antaeus, Winter-Spring 1981. NOTE ON WWTA: The Beginners manuscript of "Beginners" bears corrections in Carver's hand, including his cancellation of the two final sentences: "Then it would get better. I knew if I closed my eyes, I could get lost." In Lish's first editing of the story he cut the last five pages. In his second editing he changed the title from "Beginners" to "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" and deleted the names of the old couple "Anna" and "Henry [Gates]." SUBSEQUENT PUBLICATION: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" was collected in WICF as it appeared in WWTA. "Beginners" was published in The New Yorker of December 24-31, 2007, as it appeared in the Beginners manuscript.

11 September, 2012

Raymond Carver, "So Much Water So Close to Home"

This great story was made into the Australian movie Jindabyne. Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney played the key roles. This short story was also included in the Robert Altman film, Short Cuts. I really liked both movies and even though I'm a huge Raymond Carver fan, I had not read this particular story before seeing the movies. Short Cuts I saw several years ago and just the other day Jindabyne.

The story is written from the point of view of Claire, Stuart's wife. In Short Cuts, the Claire character earns money dressed as a clown and performs at children's birthday parties. In Jindabyne, I don't think Claire had a job. In Jindabyne, Stuart was the one to find the body but not in the short story. I don't recall for sure who found the body in Short Cuts. There are several differences that do not amount to anything very significant.

What I find so skillfully handled and so intriguing and representative of what makes short fiction important are the issues raised. What is the appropriate behavior of men when they find a young woman's body floating in the river? The violence these men perpetrated against her is immense yet they did not physically harm her. The way in which Stuart has sex with his wife, Claire, just a couple of days after finding the dead girl is one of the most violent acts I've ever read yet he doesn't commit a violent act.

In the Australian movie, the issue of race is apparent. The girl found was aboriginal and some native Australians lash out at the white men for disrespecting their sister and friend. Carver's story is set in the United States, Washington state.

Jindabyne (film) Wikipedia site
Rotten Tomatoes review site, Jindabyne
Rotten Tomatoes review site, Short Cuts
Wikipedia, Paul Kelly and the Messengers, song from this short story

29 March, 2011

Raymond Carver, "Why Don't You Dance?"

"Why Don't You Dance?" is the classic reprint in issue Volume 15, Number 1 of Zoetrope: All-Story. A drunk puts all of his household belongings on the driveway. Everything, the bed, the end tables, record player and plugs them all in so that customers can see that everything works. A young couple stop by because they are looking to fill their new apartment. This story is spare, poignant and twice the girl says, first to the boy, and then to the drunk, that he must be desperate.

Evidently, Will Ferrell will be in a movie based on this short story. The movie, Everything Must Go, will be released in May 2011. I can't wait to see the movie but at the same time, I'm afraid they will ruin the story. Carver is one of my favorite authors and back in the 1980s, his stories really sealed the deal for me that I love short stories more than any other art form. They are capable of what I've wanted to do all my life and that is to understand everything. This story shows a man who no longer cares and his addiction has control of him. It's an honest portrayal without being sappy or pathetic. It's just real with no extra coating or skirting around the issue.

ADDENDUM: I saw the movie and enjoyed it but the only resemblance to the short story is the guy living on his lawn with all of his stuff. It also did not feel as bleak as the story and of course, there's the predictable ending so neatly tied up. 

When I'm back at home, I'll have to look up the pre-Gordon Lish version of this story, if there is one. It is really bare bones and that is one of the things I love most about it. There are no extra words getting in the way of the story.

I just looked at my own blog (duh!) Sept. 2009 and see a few notes about the Lish editing of this story.

Wikipedia, Carver
unofficial Carver site
Will Ferrell movie article

30 May, 2010

Raymond Carver and Robert Altman

Watched Robert Altman's film, Short Cuts, which takes 8 Raymond Carver stories (and a poem), dices them up, adds significant characteristics, for example, in "Neighbors," the husband, a fledgling gory make-up artist, and wife role play violence and  the husband photographs her in their neighbor's apartment. Doreen, from "They're Not Your Husband," drives the car that hits Casey from "A Small Good Thing." The stories Altman used included, "Jerry and Molly and Sam," "Will You Please by Quiet Please," "Collectors," "Neighbors," "A Small Good Thing," "So Much Water So Close to Home," "They're Not Your Husband," "Vitamins," "Tell the Women We're Going," and according to a reviewer (whose name I cannot find now) also a poem, "Lemonade." I like the film but it is rather long; perhaps Altman didn't need to include so many stories. However, that being said, I loved having the chance to see several of Carver's stories interpreted for film. There's a multitude of Hollywood stars, Lyle Lovett, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, just to name a few.

06 March, 2010

Raymond Carver, "The Idea" Glen Pourciau, "Other"

Read Raymond Carver's short story, "The Idea." Written in 1st person POV. Vern and his wife, the narrator, watch their neighbor sneek out of his house nearly every night to window peep at his wife in his own house. The narrator is disgusted but fascinated by it and her husband, Vern, is beginning to think the neighbor might be on to something. This story is included in Would You Please Be Quiet Please and written in 1971-1972.

Here is a link to another interview with Carver.

Read Glen Pourciau's story, "Other," published in the New Orleans Review,
Volume 35, Number 1.
In just over two pages, a husband and wife, at a bar, share with a woman they do not know the anger felt because the husband still loves his first wife who died too young. In turn, the unknown woman who also lost a lover has more empathy for the husband than the wife.

03 March, 2010

Raymond Carver, "They're Not Your Husband"

Read Raymond Carver's story, "They're Not Your Husband," which is one of the story lines in Robert Altman's film, Short Cuts, 1993. Lily Tomlin and Tom Waits play the roles of Earl and Doreen. Doreen is a waitress at a diner and Earl is unemployed. Earl overhears two customers at the diner talk about Doreen's fat ass. Earl decides she needs to lose weight and he notes the number every day on the scales.

Also, read "Are You a Doctor" written in 3rd person POV, close limited. What begins as a wrong telephone number call quickly escalates into something ominous yet never achieves closure even though Arnold finally agrees to go to "wrong number" Clara's house because she says it's urgent. It is just 7 pages long and was first published in 1973 in Fiction.

02 March, 2010

Raymond Carver, "Neighbors"

Read Raymond Carver's "Neighbors." Bill and Arlene housesit for the Stones and they not only snoop, independent of each other, but use the Stones's apartment as a kind of alter ego playground. The story was first published in Esquire magazine in 1971 before being included in Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?

Here is a link to an essay about Carver.

01 March, 2010

Raymond Carver, "Fat"

Read "Fat" by Raymond Carver. It's written in 1st person POV. The narrator tells her friend, Rita, about a customer at the restaurant where she's a waitress. The customer is very big and she's intrigued by his "creamy fingers." The fat man refers to himself in plural "we" but the narrator only refers to his way of speaking as "strange." The story is only 4 1/2 pages long. It is the 1st story in The Library of America edition of Raymond Carver: Collected Stories and it was included in both Where I'm Calling From and Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? and was first published in Harper's Bazaar, September 1971.

08 September, 2009

Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish

I’m listing just a few of my thoughts while reading the Library of America volume, Raymond Carver: Collected Stories. I’m particularly interested in the Beginners chapter which is the manuscript version of the stories prior to Gordon Lish’s edits and the publication as What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

The first story I read—disregarding my first reading many years ago when What We Talk About When We Talk About Love was published in 1981 and, I believe, I read it in 1985-1986—“Why Don’t You Dance?” was not shortened too much by Carver’s editor, Gordon Lish. However, I like the changes Lish made. He took away the names of the characters, Max, Jack, and Carla and instead called them, the girl, the boy, and the man. Somehow the people seem more universal. In their incidentality, their situations seem all the more significant. Or maybe, Max, Jack, and Carla are just not the right names.

Another interesting change is, pre-Lish sentence, “The buffed aluminum kitchen set occupied a part of the driveway.” and the post-Lish sentence reads, “The buffed aluminum kitchen set took up a part of the driveway.” I like the way, in this story, took up sounds. I cannot explain it but it fits the action. The kitchen set does occupy part of the driveway but it is being taken away from the main character because his life is obviously falling apart. The kitchen set also seems more of an active participant when it takes up.

I also like the paragraph that Lish changed to –ing verbs (verbal gerunds) touching, plugging, turning, picking, making, in place of Carver’s past tense verbs.

However, I’m finding that mostly I like the pre-Lish stories a little bit better, at least at this moment in my life. I know when I read What We Talk About…that I loved them. I need to find the issue of the New Yorker which published both versions of one of the stories and I remember thinking, at that time, that Carver seemed to be rambling. So, I’m fickle!

Carver’s story, “Want to See Something?” prior to Lish’s heavy editing seemed richer to me. In the longer version, dark and light are contrasted in an effective way that illustrates opposites, night, moon, flashlight, airplane lights, baby’s white hair and skin, white exhaust, dirt, slugs. Lots of dark/white made for a rich visual which was almost totally depleted by Lish. In the heavily edited version, the baby was removed and the woman’s thoughts at the end of the original were fleshed out and I think shortened too much by Lish.

“A Small Good Thing” that was retitled by Lish as “The Bath.” Even though the pre-Lish version shows the boy, Scotty, dying as well as the other boy, Nelson, I believe the pre-Lish version is more full of hope. In the post-Lish version the boys are not shown dying nor are the parents shown to go visit the baker. The scene with the baker and the parents is redemptive and explores humans comforting each other and forgiving even after cruelty. The pre-Lish and post-Lish versions seem to be entirley different stories.