Sunday, 18 May 2008

Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver

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?

Other points of view:
Isolation and the short stories of Raymond Carver
It snowed today
Alysson’s Weblog
Bryan's Book Blog

1 comment:

  1. I must admit that the only Carver story I've ever read was "Cathedral," but I did love it. Sorry this collection wasn't a hit for you.


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