Tuesday, November 21, 2006

#89



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.

8 comments:

Heather said...

I had a boyfriend in college who read so much Carver that all of his own writing sounded like intentional imitations.

I also love the poem "Ray" by Hayden Carruth, and how he does the imitation as a tribute. (Read it here if you don't know it -- it's the second one on the page.

geoff said...

Hey, thanks--I liked it too and didn't know it before. I also read and liked the first on the page.

The poem "Ray" reminded me of Moe on The Simsons Sunday, saying with unintentional irony that he shouldn't be miserable amongst all the writers at the Wordloaf Festival, because writers are the happiest people in the world.

geoff said...

Of course that should say The Simpsons.

swanksalot said...

Re: Language as a virus, D and I rented the first 2 seasons of Deadwood, and soon were calling each other (affectionately) 'cunt-face' and 'cock-sucker'. Most fun in public places.

geoff said...

Those are splendid terms of endearment!

Someday I'll get to Deadwood and the new Battlestar Galactica.

Seth Anderson said...

I didn't like Deadwood until I turned on subtitles. Maybe I'm just retarded, but am much better at following nuance when the subtitles are on.

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