Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Where I'm Calling From - Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver 1938-1988

Carver's compilation of short stories are told with the detached minimalism of the Dirty Realists, a coterie of writers in the 1970 - 80's that focused on sadness and loss in the everyday lives of ordinary people. Often their characters were lower-middle class or isolated and marginalized, perpetually misunderstood, struggling with the everyday aspects of survival, they embodied Thoreau's ideal of living lives of quiet desperation.

Carver was influenced by James Salter, but unlike Salter who created a world from the everyday moments of a single family, Carver's stories are vignettes into the lives of the American diaspora.

Like his characters, Carver's career was overshadowed by alcoholism, poverty a broken marriage and cancer. His characters often struggle with profound loss and at times are comforted by lonely bakers.

 For a while Carver eked out a living as a janitor, which gave him time during off hours to work on his short stories. He resonates with the down-and-out-blue-collar character, the hardscrabble world of the working poor. While Salter's characters are upper middle class, leisurely sipping their wine and grumbling about lack of identity and the confines of marriage, Carver's characters have no time for wine sipping or a moment to stop and wonder if there could be something else. They are trapped in a world of emptiness and desperation. There are lost dreams and deluded hopes. And yet throughout his short stories are moments of connection. A man traces a cathedral with a blind man. A moment observing and ugly baby play with a peacock fills a couple with happiness and they embark on a new life of their own. A boy catches a fish that only he can appreciate while his family life slowly crumbles around him. A husband searches for meaning in a letter from his wife, slowly tearing apart the writing style and semantics, missing who she is as a person, refusing to listen or acknowledge her accusations as she quietly walks out of the house into a herd of abandoned horses.

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