Monday, October 17, 2011

A 20th Century Classic

I'm fond of Raymond Carver's short stories and poems. He's one of the few writers whom I didn't protest at having to read him for contemporary works. That day, I decided to re-read the seven short stories in 'Elephant'.

I used to find the discussion of 'pulling the plug' in 'Whoever was Using This Bed' all very pointless, a random topic brought upon by the persistent ringing of the phone by a caller looking for a non-existent person. This round, I found it mildly hilarious.

'Blackbird Pie' reminds me again that a relationship needs working on, always. Sure, it can do with alot of additions to an already stable relationship, but it can also do without alot of other factors. "She hesitated and then she said, "This isn't as sudden as it looks. It's been coming for a long, long time. We've been married for a good many years. Good times and bad, up times and down. We've had them all. But it's time I was on my own. Yes, it's time. Do you know what I'm saying, gentlemen?" "

'Elephant' is still painful to read. This thing about the narrator having to feed his entire family because they just seemed to be plagued by bad luck all the time and needed rescuing. I don't envy the pressure sole breadwinners feel. Sometimes, their stories fill me with rage as the words tumble out of their mouths. They aren't just fiction anymore. But such is the reality of life, and the unfairness of it all.

"That's four people, right? Not counting my brother, who wasn't a regular yet. I was going crazy with it. I worried night and day. I couldn't sleep over it. I was paying out nearly as much money every month as I was bringing in. You don't have to be a genius, or know anything about economics, to understand that this state of affairs couldn't keep on. I had to get a loan to keep up my end of things. That was another monthly payment. // So I started cutting back. I had to quit eating out, for instance. Since I lived alone, eating out was something I liked to do, but it became a thing of the past. And I had to watch myself when it came to thinking about movies. I couldn't buy clothes or get my teeth fixed The car was falling apart. I needed new shoes, but forget it."

'Errand' is the one story I still can't totally identify with. It has been hailed by literary critics as one of Carver's best works. It's a partially fictional account of Russian writer Anton Chekhov's death. Chekhov is one of Carver's literary idols. The narrator in this story adopts an unusually factual tone and incorporates writing by the other characters into the paragraphs. It can be a little confusing, but it's largely interesting as Carver weaves in and out of comments and stays on track on Chekhov's eventual death. It's beyond human relationships, in a way, suggesting to the reader to think of a further relationship between literature and history and how one might react to another's death.

"She needed him to go out and bring back a mortician. Did he understand her? Herr Chekhov was dead, you see. Comprenez-vous? Young man? Anton Chekhov was dead. Now listen carefully to me, she said. She wanted him to go downstairs and ask someone at the front desk where he could go to find the most respected mortician in the city. Someone reliable, who took great pains in his work and whose manner was appropriately reserved. A mortician, in short, worthy of a great artist."

The tiny book is handy to carry around. The Kindle isn't always satisfying. Having it with me on feline(s) feeding duty before I was due to meet the friends for lunch ensured that I was well occupied during the pockets of free time in between.


jingjing said...

Feline feeding duty?? U started feeding kitties now? Hehe

imp said...

jingjing: For a while now. Whenever the friends travel, I don't mind hopping over to their homes to feed the cats, change litter and the sorts.

Dawn said...

Love Carver. The man is a genius.

Anonymous said...

my god, elephant's too close to home. sigh.

imp said...

Dawn: totally.

Tuti: is that story you like of all?

Corsage@A Dollop Of Me said...

Oh, if no one else is reading it, can I borrow this from you?

imp said...

corsage: of course. let me go find it!

Anonymous said...

it just sticks out to me more because that's about the kind of life i'm leading. there are not enough hours in a day as increasing productivity is one way to keep up with the running costs.