After watching Love Never Dies, I read this book of short stories of the above title by Raymond Carver on the one-hour train trip home. Given his status as a demigod of American Literature and staple diet of university literature courses, I wanted to know what was so amazing about his writing. To be honest, while I liked the short stories and the how he made the humdrum banality into a tale worth telling, it didn’t particularly strike me as a must read!
Three of them which stood out to me was the one about the man who attempts to abandon his dog, the one in which the husband of a waitress has her diet to see what customers say about her appearance and the one about a mother who is frightened of her son who displayed a disposition towards violence.
Al, the protagonist in ‘Jerry and Molly and Sam‘ is about him feeling that his life is about to fall apart. He feels that the loss of his job is impending at any given moment, he has had an affair and is terrified by how insecure it makes him, he has just rented a new apartment and worst of all, his sister-in-law had bought the kids a useless dog that pees on the household carpet. Thinking that getting rid of the dog might ease all the pressure he’s feeling, he decides to abandon the dog in his old neighbourhood where it would be adopted by a family that wouldn’t find it a burden. But when Al tries to leave the dog to fend for itself, he feels an inner turmoil as guilt bubbles in him. When he returns home, it is clear the dog is sorely missed by his kids. So he goes back to reclaim the dog, realising he can’t simply fix a problem by putting it somewhere else.
‘They’re not Your Husband‘ is another striking story about the marriage of a man to a woman who works as a waitress. He feels embarrassed when his wife is insulted by a pair of customers who make comments about her weight. So he gets her to go on a diet program and has her do exercises until she becomes a lot thinner. She comments her work mates have been worried about her rapid weight loss but her husband tells her they are not your husband. Carver’s writing does not glorify the human beings in his sparse short stories. His description of the main characters shows little mercy and brutal honesty but somehow he manages to grasp the stream of thoughts, feelings and events that led to the aftermath. Then her husband tries to see what the customers say about his wife after the transformation while he masquerades as a stranger.
The story titled ‘Why, Honey?’ which was written in the format of a letter by a mother who had sought to hide herself from her miscreant son who has since become a famous politician; he has now unearthed her identity even though she had changed her name and moved away in the hope he would never find her again. The family cat, Trudy, had apparently been a victim of his cruel childhood prank where she was forced to have firecrackers explode in her ears and “you-know-what”. It is obvious the son has brought upon himself a reputation for being an accomplished liar; he lied about the amount of money he made at his part-time job, he lied about going to the show when he attended a dance and he lied about going on a field trip when he played truant. The most climactic moment comes when his mother asks him to tell the truth and he asks her to kneel. Given we only have the fearful mother’s perspective whose faith in her dishonest son is quite shaky, it’s a bone-chilling moment.
Each story has its own individual trait but somehow appear to be interconnected by a common thread where each seems to communicate with the others. There might be merit in the approach taken by the film Short Cuts which rests on the belief all of Carver’s work is one storyline about occurrences.