Happy Thursday! I’m currently working on developing a meme based around used books and thrift shops, so keep an eye out! No new reviews just yet as I’m still working through Where I’m Calling From. Still, I’d like to point out just a few remarkable moments thus far. Carver’s considered one of the masters of the short story. Let’s take a look at why.
This fat man is the fattest person I have ever seen, thought he is neat-appearing and well dressed enough. Everything about him is big. But it is the fingers I remember best. When I stop at the table near his to see to the old couple, I first notice the fingers. They look three times the size of a normal person’s fingers–long, thick, creamy fingers.– Raymond Carver, “Fat”
The story is called “Fat” and is essentially about a man eating and a waitress’ increasing empathy. This quote comes from the fourth paragraph. Just read it once more. A story about a man eating, and yet we can almost taste the man’s fingers. Fingers! It’s almost repulsive, but Carver is brilliant, and he knows exactly when and how to draw your attention to a specific detail in a very particular way.
In the second story of the collection, “Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes,” Carver begins with the following line:
It had been two days since Evan Hamilton had stopped smoking, and it seemed to him everything he’d said and thought for two days somehow suggested cigarettes. He looked at his hands under the kitchen light. He sniffed his knuckles and fingers.“I can smell it,” he said.
With Carver, no detail is too minor. Immediately, we know Evan is in a battle with himself, and this battle seems to pour through his..well..pores. If you end up reading “Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes,” this detail comes into play later as Evan interacts with his son and we’re brought full-circle by the end of the story. Again, a master at work.
Finally, we’ll looked at the opening paragraph from “The Student’s Wife.”
He had been reading to her from Rilke, a poet he admired, when she fell asleep with her head on his pillow. He liked reading aloud, and he read well—a confident sonorous voice, now pitched low and somber, now rising, now thrilling. He never looked away from the page when he read and stopped onto reach to the nightstand for a cigarette. It was a rich voice that spilled her into a dream of caravans just setting out from the walled cities and bearded men in robes. She had listened to him for a few minutes, then she had closed her eyes and drifted off.
Wow–there’s a lot to take in. The couple begin in bed, unmoving. His voice moves–up, down, thrilling, somber. His voice travels a road of emotion. Yet, despite his active reading, he doesn’t look away from the page, and we have a sense of restriction. The rich voice reaches her in her dreams, yet the caravan is setting out from a walled city. She is asleep and unmoving.
Throughout this first paragraph, movement is juxtaposed with stillness, restriction with a sense of freedom, thrilling with somber. Yet, the movement comes from the mind, from the voice, and from the imagination, not from the characters themselves. This idea sets the emotional stage for the rest of the story. Sheesh….Carver is a man who knew what he was doing, and I’m excited to continue through this collection.
Still, Carver is a man who writes not with length, but with depth. In a collection that total some 500 pages, I find myself having to put down the book to really think about what Carver writes. Carver’s stories deal with hefty subjects and emotion, and they’re stories you really feel despite a rather unornamented style of prose. Couldn’t be any more recommended.
I shall return tomorrow, possibly with fiction of my own, possibly with more details about the development of a meme, but, in any case, thanks for tuning in!
Do you have a favorite Raymond Carver story? Thoughts on the post? Suggestions? Post below!
Best wishes, and happy Thursday.