Monday, February 15, 2010

Raymond Carver, Come Back!

Raymond Carver was just one of those guys, I suppose. If you read this blog with some frequency, you know I'm not big into "realism" or whatever writing that is concerned with the kinds of everyday occurrences we all share and can basically relate to. Some of these occurrences are a little more F*%^ed up than others, but we can imagine a world in which they happen, sadly. I don't for the most part concern myself with that genre. However, one of them who wrote it best and whom I will make an exception for is Raymond Carver.

I remember the first Raymond Carver story I ever read. I read it for a lit criticism class I took my sophomore year of college. It was called, simply, "A Small, Good Thing." I was really fascinated by it. I wasn't a literary-minded person at the time -- actually I was just coming off the hangover of college athletics and, to that extent, being a "jock" more or less. But I intuited in that crude, inchoate undergraduate way of English majoring undergrads (who could be gotten to read for an assignment) that there was something interesting about what I was reading. It was as much for what it wasn't saying as it was for what it did.

That's the point at which Carver took the baton from Hemingway and ran powerful fast with it -- that same uncanny sense of the things we don't say but non-verbally they say more than anything else can. They without words express the dominance of a certain person or faction in a discussion, or the absurdity of a fight that can't be understood by the fighters embroiled, or just what the hell is going on. And what the hell is going on? Wickedness, for one thing. People do commit evil against one another.

"Tell the Women We're Going" is one such story in Carver's collection, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." It tells the tale of two boys who grow to be men, who grow dissatisfied with the hum-drum of their married lives, but who find they don't know how to release this pent-up frustration. On an afternoon respite from their families they go to town and discover two young women, who they proceed to make advances towards. The women seem coquettish but also uninterested, much too young for the older men. But the men refuse this rejection, in particular Jerry, and pursue the women to a climactic and somewhat inevitable feeling end. The men were never going to get what they wanted, or ostensibly what they wanted, so they took something else.

There's also an abbreviated version of "A Small, Good Thing" entitled "The Bath." The dynamic changes with pith in "The Bath" and the lack of the same apotheosis that occurs in "A Small, Good Thing" makes it read more like a horror story for the main characters involved, to really enjoyable effect. I liked it for its difference. "So Much Water So Close to Home" is another that proves rending emotionally, and again, the most amazing thing is how Carver made use of the negative spaces, seeing something that was not there and allowing that to be put on display.

So come back, Raymond Carver, because nobody did any of that like you, not since Hemingway, and you did it differently, with an even keener eye for the human.

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