Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Reading Raymond Carver affects my vernacular. I begin thinking and speaking in a folksy clipped manner. All words worth more than a nickel vanish from my vocabulary. This phenomenon happens with TV shows regularly (when I watch 2 episodes of The Wire per day for a week, for example, I'll start to say muthafucka and sheeyit and bitch more often). But typically what I'm reading doesn't change how I speak. I don't coil my verbiage with endlessly looping dependent clauses when I'm reading Henry James, for instance.
But Carver's simplicity is deceptive, as they say. You can read one of his sad tales of loss and the losers who experience it in a straigtforward manner, enjoy the story and mark its lack of pretense, and miss completely its surprising depths. This collection has several stories I've read before: "A Small Good Thing" can still bring a tear to my jaded eye after a half-dozen re-visits; "Cathedral" insists that we're all blind and unable to communicate; "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" discusses darkly the greatest mystery humans face; and, of course, there's the title story, which I've taught to hundreds of undergrads,and which still knocks me for a loop. I find more symbolism in "Where I'm Calling From" each time I read it, and each time I think How in God's name could I have missed that all these years?
I missed that because Carver is a true master of the form, and his gift for subtle, simple imagery may be unmatched. All those references to fires, hearths, flames, chimneys, chimney sweeps, and wells in the title story? They add up to an impressionist masterpiece, and there are several in this volume.