Review: Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver

Happy Tuesday/Wednesday!  Sorry for no post yesterday–had to deal with an old villain…an 100-year old tree that was finally brought down.  I know that trees are good for the environment, but this one causing problems with the foundation and had to be removed.  I apologized to both the tree and the resident squirrels.  When it finally came down, I surprised to see it was mostly hollow.  I’m honestly amazed it never came down with all of the heavy storms we’ve had over the years.  We’re just lucky, I suppose.

Anyway, back to books!


I  believe one of the most difficult feats of writing is to write a very good short story.  To compress the breadth of a novel into a short story is not easy to do, and, yet, Raymond Carver makes the task seem effortless.

Where I’m Calling From is a kind of “greatest hits” selection of Carver’s writing.  The collection includes Carver’s best-known (and best-loved) classics, such as “Fat” and “Cathedral,” but also incorporates seven of his later, unpublished works completed before his untimely death.

If you’re looking for a entry point into the works of Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From provides a bit of everything from throughout his career and would make a great start.

The one problem I had with this collection is the problem I’ve had with multiple short story collections, and that’s that the characters begin to feel similar after reading a few stories in a row.  Then again, I’m not suQtyE6FlyNps3k3esGQFjGse8o1_500re that Carver’s stories are meant to be read one after another for the simple fact that each one is like a punch in the chest, full of and resonating with the human condition.  I’d find it preferable to read a Carver story, take a break (or read something else in between), and then return to go for another.

In a way, Carver’s stories are much like alcohol in the way that they can be intoxicating if consumed too quickly.  I don’t mean this as a joke about Carver’s alcoholism—it really is the best comparison I can find.  His stories have a knack for making you feel.   Some of Carver’s stories will make you chuckle.  Others will make you cringe.  There’s a massive range of emotion present in the stories of Where I’m Calliing From.

 Where I’m Calling From gives us tragedy, alcoholism, love, childhood, identity—a bit of everything, and Carver renders his characters with depth and skill.  Over the course of each story, the characters gradually pull themselves up from the page, becoming three-dimensional figures with personalities, quirks, and flaws.

7363-2Carver’s words are economized—every word has a purpose and nothing is just a detail for the sake of detail, and that’s the way a short story should be written.  His language is simple, but it is a simple language that speaks to the reader directly and powerfully—no facades.
Quite simply, Carver is a talent that shouldn’t be missed.  If you’re a reader who enjoys good stories told well, Carver’s work will find a way to resonate with you.

Can’t miss stories (and the first few lines of each)

1. Cathedral

 This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night. His wife had died. So he was visiting the dead wife’s relatives in Connecticut. He called my wife from 3732438797_4588feef2c_ohis in-laws’. Arrangements were made. He would come by train, a five-hour trip, and my wife would meet him at the station. She hadn’t seen him since she worked for him one summer in Seattle ten years ago. But she and the blind man had kept in touch. They made tapes and mailed them back and forth. I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.


2. Fat

I am sitting over coffee and cigarettes at my friend Rita’s and I am telling her about it.

Here is what I tell her.

????????????????????It is a late slow Wednesday when Herb seats the fat man at my station.

This fat man is the fattest person I have ever seen, though 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.


3. Fever

Carlyle was in a spot. He’d been in a spot all summer, since early June when his wife had left him. But up until a little while ago, just a few feverdays before he had to start meeting his classes at the high school, Carlyle hadn’t needed a sitter. He’d been the sitter. Every day and every night he’d attended to the children. Their mother, he told them, was away on a long trip.




Honorable Mention:

4. Feathers, just for this paragraph

The baby stood in Olla’s lap, looking around the table at us. Olla had moved her hands down to its middle so that the baby could rock back and forth on its fat legs. Bar none, it was the ugliest baby I’d ever seen. It was so ugly I couldn’t say anything. No words would come out of my mouth. I don’t mean it was diseased or disfigured. Nothing like that. It was just ugly. It had a big red face, pop eyes, a broad forehead, and these big fat Feathers-Raymond-Carver-e1405451841702lips. It had no neck to speak of, and it had three or four fat chins. Its chins rolled right up under its ears, and its ears stuck out from its bald head. Fathung over its wrists. Its arms and fingers were fat. Even calling it ugly does it credit.  The ugly baby made its noise and jumped up and down on its mother’s lap. Then it stopped jumping. It leaned forward and tried to reach its fat hand into Olla’s plate.

I’ve seen babies. When I was growing up, my two sisters had a total of six babies. I was around babies a lot when I was a kid. I’ve seen babies in stores and so on. But this baby beat anything. Fran stared at it, too. I guess she didn’t know what to say either.

Hope you’ll consider checking out Carver.  Have a good week, folks!


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