With this, his first collection of stories, Raymond Carver breathed new life into the American short story. Carver shows us the humor and tragedy that dwell in the hearts of ordinary peop≤ his stories are the classics of our time. "[Carver's stories] can ... be counted among the masterpieces of American Literature." --The New York Times Book Review "One of the great short story writers of our time--of any time." --The Philadelhpia Inquirer "The whole collection is a knock out. Few wriers can match Raymond Carver's entiwining style and language." --The Dallas Morning News
Carver, again like Hemingway, is famous for having a fairly bare style. I’m not a fan of this. I’m OK with it when Hemingway uses it to describe lion hunting in Africa and skiing in Switzerland, but not so much when Carver uses it to describe unhappy middle-class couples in mid-century America having evasive conversations. I like short stories to have either a vivid, baroque writing style, or an interesting plot, or ideally both. Carver sadly checks neither box. Will You Please Be Quiet, Please has a few stories in it that piqued my interest – specifically “Jerry, Molly and Sam,” about a father driving his kids’ dog out into the middle of nowhere and abandoning it, and “Are These Actual Miles?”, about a man in financial trouble who suspects his wife of infidelity – but for the most part I found them formulaic and somewhat empty; brimming with dull moments of epiphany. I half-suspect whoever wrote the Wikipedia page for this collection is taking the piss; consider this synopsis for the story “How About This:”
A couple comes to look at the woman’s father’s deserted place in the country. Maybe they will move there.
It’s all well and good to cite the Iceberg Theory and have a story where much remains unsaid and you have to read between the lines, but I don’t have much inclination to do so in stories about struggling relationships (and more than half the stories in here are about struggling relationships) with bitter comments made in restaurants and living rooms. I don’t really feel like googling an analysis of a story after I’ve read it. This collection often feels like it comprises of stories made to be dissected in a classroom discussion, rather than to be read, appreciated and enjoyed.
Hemingway left enough for the imagination, and at times I would read commentary on his work and discover something I had missed. But with Carver, I have read commentaries that envision his stories as they are written. In many, I found my imagination unresolved, wondering what happened next, what was meant, but delightfully bewildered all the same.
I knew little about Carver and chose the book because I like the Vintage Classics series. After reading, I went to The Paris Review and the Poetry Foundation to see what else I could learn about Carver. From his late interviews, he appears rather Stoic (as opposed to stoic) in his philosophy, and humble in that he worked for most of his life and only achieved fame much later.
I was also impressed by his gratitude towards his partner, fellow poet Tess Gallagher, who would read and provide feedback on Carver's work after the fourth draft. Gallagher is now in her mid-70s and has a book of poetry to be released in 2019.
I recall Scott Fitzgerald commenting that nobody wanted to read about poor people, but Carver writes about lower-middle class people who end up realising that they won't ever really get ahead. I could feel the grunge from my 1970s childhood in his stories, even though geographically I was on the other side of the world and so young.
What I like about Carver's work is that it takes me back to a time that is somewhat familiar, and much harder to glorify. Conversely, Hemingway's era was so long ago that it is all new. Carver's era has a touch of sentimentality (for me), but his subjects are such that there is less nostalgia, more "things are different now yet somehow the same".
Carver's subjects are not rags to riches or riches to rags stories; they are people striving to be more than they are and then becoming bankrupt or divorced or alcoholic or just downright strange as they do what they do. There is no real political statement in his work, rather a social commentary, stemming from his own upbringing.
These are wonderful stories and I enjoyed the way Carver makes my imagination work, even to the point of frustration. I also like that there is no way to find out what he really meant - he meant for the reader to reach their own conclusion.
This work would have made my day in high school English. Whenever we were asked what the author meant in a particular work, I would become frustrated with the teacher telling us and say something like "How are we supposed to know that. Did you ask them?" I've heard this same rot from my students!
But there appears to be an absence of hidden meaning and morality in Carver's work. In his own words, literature is "superior amusement", and maybe with a hint of spirituality. I found the grunginess of the stories frighteningly familiar, as if all of my embarrassing failures in life had been recorded and put into a collection of short stories.
That, I believe is what Carver does best. He captures the lives of ordinary battlers and uses his experiences and the stories he has heard from others as the baseline for a work of fiction, fiction that is true enough to be real but fictional enough not to be true.
If ever there was a genre that combined Hemingway's and Bukowski's styles, then this is it. Apparently, Carver didn't like his style being referred to as "minimalist". I wonder how he would feel about "grunge iceberg"?