21 Feb 2007

Where I'm Calling From

Where I'm calling from, Raymond Carver

This guy could write.

And I shouldn't really be saying that. Early exposure to Katharine Mansfield and the shorter Joyce left me with a phobia of the dreaded Literary Short Story. You know the drill: a few pages setting the scene, showing our protagonist performing some domestic task, reminiscing about that time she...

and by that point, I'd be throwing the book against the wall. I have no problem with well-drawn characters or a nicely set scene. And I understand that it can't be car chases and explosions all the time. But sooner or later somebody has to, you know, do something. The Literary Short Story and me, we don't get on.

So when I tell you that I loved this book, you have to understand it's pretty special. Because by rights, I there should be a book-sized dent in my wall. It's all Literary Short Stories, full of people who do nothing, or very little, hardly any of which have a plot. A great many of them just randomly stop, seemingly with no attempt at resolution, climax, anything. And I couldn't put it down.

Ask me what it was, exactly, that sucked me in and I couldn't tell you, except maybe the voice. Carver was completely in control of what he was putting on the page. There's not a wasted word in any of these stories. Not a lot of big words either. Everything is simply, beautifully, told.

One thing: you may not want to read this thing from beginning to end. These stories are indivdually so good, you may not be able to handle more than one at a sitting. Think of them as Russian Fudge: one piece, two, grand. Eat a whole plateful and you'll be lying on the couch groaning all afternoon.

So go on. Pick up this book and conquer your phobia of the Literary Short Story.

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