Ah, Raymond Carver. The patron saint of life on the rocks. “Booze takes a lot of time and effort if you’re going to do a good job with it.” Like marriage. Divorce goes better with bitters and water. The American Dream explodes, and all your crap lands out there on the suburban lawn for the world to see.
They don’t let you get an English degree without reading a lot of Carver. (Well, there isn’t technically a LOT to read. Aside from the poetry, there’s only five major short story collections.) I’d encountered him here and there briefly, which is best, because his stories are like quick punches to the plexus. One feels pummeled by some thin, magical pugilist who appears and disappears at will. Sometimes you don’t even notice you’ve been punched until an hour later.
He’s left a legacy so pervasive that I may have written a story or two that could easily be accused of being Carver-esque, despite my general ignorance of the man. I just sat down to read “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” from beginning to end. I almost regret it. It’s a very short collection, but it’s too much at once. A knock-out, though. Carver inherited the Hemingway aesthetic of the short story, (talk about pervasive legacies), but he dispenses with the bullfights and the bullshit. There are no safaris in the savannas, no fishing on the Gulf Stream, no treks to the Kilimanjaro. The American kitchen is the most dangerous, eventful place on Earth, if there’s a man and a woman there and they’re not seeing eye to eye. Put a bottle of whiskey on the kitchen table, and forget it. No one comes out intact.