Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Writings of Raymond Carver

I first became interested in Raymond Carver in 1988, when I picked up his story collection titled "Where I'm Calling From". Thrilled to have discovered a great "new" short story writer, and waiting with bated breath to see what he would come up with next, I did some research only to find that this wonderful writer had already passed away. Raymond Carver had a relatively short life-- he only lived for fifty years-- but during that time he was one of the most prolific writers of our time. His short stories are commonly used in college classes and his story collections and are still popular sellers.

If you are looking for some of Raymond Carver's poetry and story collections, there are many great pieces to choose from. If you are a Carver novice, start at the beginning and then work your way through his bibliography. Honestly, you won't want to miss a thing. Some of his best work was done smack in the middle of his career. Following his death, several collections were published, including one (published in 2000), that included previously unpublished works. My favorite Carver pieces can be found in multiple volumes, but the best collection can be found in 1988's "Where I'm Calling From".

Indeed, if you can only read one story collection by Carver, make it "Where I'm Calling From". This book is still widely available today at book stores and online book retailers (it was most recently published by Vintage Contemporaries paperbacks). This volume contains the largest selection of his best work, including "Fat", "A Serious Talk", "Neighbors", "Feathers" and the haunting "A Small, Good Thing". The stories in this book are written in Carver's trademark "sparse", simple writing style, stories about regular people like you and me. His stories are descriptive without using too many descriptive words, with just enough dialogue, but enough of a balance to tell his tale and get his point across. If you tire of wading through wordy, descriptive prose, then Carver is your man.

One of my favorite stories from "Where I'm calling From" is entitled "They're Not You're Husband". It's the story of Earl, a regular guy, and his wife Doreen, a waitress who has a few pounds to lose (at least in Earl's opinion). Carver has a way of making the characters get a little crazy and this story is a perfect example of the fanatical husband trying to control his wife.

"A Small Good Thing" is a heartbreakingly stale of loss, with sinister undertones. It is by far the "creepiest" of Carver's stories-- but still not a Steven King tale by any means. "A Serious Talk" is the tale of an estranged couple during the holidays. In "Fat", we have the story of waitress who confides in her friend Rita about how an overweight customer has changed her life. "Neighbors" is the story of Bill and Arlene Miller, a seemingly happy couple who are asked to look after their neighbor's apartment while they are away. Seems like such a simple topic-- not much fodder for a short story-- but Carver has a way of turning even the most simple scenario into a thought-provoking tale.

All of the stories in "Where I'm Calling From" are woven together in such a way that you just won't want to put the book down. This book is jam-packed with 37 of Carver's best stories and it's a great introduction to his work. For a whirlwind introduction to some of these stories, you can check out the 1993 movie "Short Cuts" which was loosely based on several of these stories (a companion book called "Short Cuts" was also released). I highly recommend reading the book before seeing the movie, though.

Carver's life was cut short, and had he lived longer, there's no telling what more he could have accomplished. Thank goodness for the rich collection of writing that he did leave behind.

Recommended Works by Raymond Carver

Fires: Essays, Stories, Poems (1983)
Cathedral -- Short Stories (1983)
Where Water Comes Together With Other Water-- Poems (1986)
Ultramarine-- Poems (1986)
Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories (1988)
Will You Please be Quiet Please-- Stories (1988)
No Heroics, Please: Uncollected Writings (1991)
Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose (2000)

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