Thursday, August 28, 2008

Books: Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver

It's difficult enough to write about a book of short stories, with all its diverging characters and plot lines, but Carver makes it even harder. His stories are simple and natural and perfect; there seems little to say about them, other than that they make you want to read more of them.

The title story, last in the volume, is astonishingly good. Like most of Carver's stories, it describes, in real time (however close literature can ever get to "real" time) people in a relationship at the moment of pressure (in this case, the admittance of infidelity, a common theme). But they aren't all so similar (not that I would mind if they were); there's a story about a boy's battle in a creek for a giant fish (Nobody Said Anything) and a wary letter written by an estranged mother in regard to her now-famous son (Why, Honey?). But these stories diverge from Carver's sweet spot: the feelings of a thirty- to forty-something man and/or woman who is falling apart, like the eerily awkward mother in Are You a Doctor? (one of the volume's best stories), who calls a wrong number but then insists that the man on the line come over to her apartment (and he does). The muffled despair of extreme loneliness, smoked away with cigarettes (and, in What's in Alaska?, with pot), drunk away with beer (in Night School) or buried under food (in Fat) isn't softened by another person's presence—in fact, that other person usually augments the loneliness, by not meeting the first person's needs or expectations (The Student's Wife), by illustrating plainly what is missing.

I have only one complaint, which is that Carver spells "cigarette" without the final "te," and, since his characters do an awful lot of smoking, it's a continual distraction. But if that's the biggest problem with your stories, you're doing pretty well, no?


Anonymous said...

I just started reading this book last night, and I almost stopped on the first page when I saw "cigarette". I mean, wth? Why did no one fix that? Thank you for putting it out there on the web. I'm glad I'm not the only one, who gets his feathers ruffled by that sort of thing...His use of "lighted" over "lit" also bothers me, but at least that's a real word, spelled correctly.

Rick jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick jones said...

I actually spelled it right, when I meant to copy Carver and spell it wrong. See? I can't even spell it wrong once on purpose, and Carver spelled it wrong through the entire book.