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By the time of his early death in 1988, Raymond Carver had established himself as one of the greatest practitioners of the American short story, a writer who had not only found his own voice but imprinted it in the imaginations of thousands of readers. 'Where I'm Calling From', his last collection, encompasses classic stories from 'Cathedral', 'What We Talk About When We T By the time of his early death in 1988, Raymond Carver had established himself as one of the greatest practitioners of the American short story, a writer who had not only found his own voice but imprinted it in the imaginations of thousands of readers. 'Where I'm Calling From', his last collection, encompasses classic stories from 'Cathedral', 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love' and earlier Carver volumes, along with seven new works previosly unpublished in book form. Together, these 37 stories give us a superb overview of Carver's life work and show us why he was so widely imitated but never equaled.


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By the time of his early death in 1988, Raymond Carver had established himself as one of the greatest practitioners of the American short story, a writer who had not only found his own voice but imprinted it in the imaginations of thousands of readers. 'Where I'm Calling From', his last collection, encompasses classic stories from 'Cathedral', 'What We Talk About When We T By the time of his early death in 1988, Raymond Carver had established himself as one of the greatest practitioners of the American short story, a writer who had not only found his own voice but imprinted it in the imaginations of thousands of readers. 'Where I'm Calling From', his last collection, encompasses classic stories from 'Cathedral', 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love' and earlier Carver volumes, along with seven new works previosly unpublished in book form. Together, these 37 stories give us a superb overview of Carver's life work and show us why he was so widely imitated but never equaled.

30 review for Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories

  1. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Russell

    The typical profile of an American adult reader of literature is a college-educated professional making a decent salary in a choice environment such as the publishing industry, law office, consulting firm or college or university. But how about the other America, populated by men and women worlds away from ever reading literary works, men and women living in the raw-boned land of work boots, crap jobs, hard liquor, chain smokes, trailer camps, hollering from foul mouths and breakdowns from beat- The typical profile of an American adult reader of literature is a college-educated professional making a decent salary in a choice environment such as the publishing industry, law office, consulting firm or college or university. But how about the other America, populated by men and women worlds away from ever reading literary works, men and women living in the raw-boned land of work boots, crap jobs, hard liquor, chain smokes, trailer camps, hollering from foul mouths and breakdowns from beat-up cars? Well, welcome to Carver country. There are 37 stories in this Raymond Carver collection. As way of providing a taste of what the reader unfamiliar with the author might expect, here is a short write-up on four stories, each story vintage Raymond Carver: THEY'RE NOT YOUR HUSBAND Earl is a salesman "between jobs." Earl goes to the diner where his wife Doreen works as a waitress on the night shift. He overhears two men at the counter make less than flattering remarks about his wife's overly large posterior. Then, when Doreen leans over to scoop out ice cream, we read: "The white skirt yanked against her hips and crawled up her legs. What showed was girdle, and it was pink, thighs that were rumpled and gray and a little hairy, and veins that spread in a berserk display. The two men sitting beside Early exchanged looks." The next morning Earl asks Doreen to go on a diet and lose a few pounds. Doreen agrees and Earl buys a scale and, with paper and pencil in hand, keeps close track when Doreen steps on the scale. Doreen has minimal success initially but then loses nearly 20 pounds over the next few weeks. At this point Earl returns to the dinner but what happens as he sits at the counter does not fit in with his plans of redemption. Ah, to have a wife other men find attractive and desirable! FAT A fat man sits alone at a restaurant table for his evening meal. He is so fat he would qualify for what we 21st century readers would term "morbidly obese." Unlike everyone else working at the restaurant, the cook, the busboy, the other waitresses, the narrator of the story who waits on his table is touched by the fat man's humanity. And the more trips to his table, the greater her compassion and understanding. We feel a kind of kinship with the narrator as she tells the story and speaks of the fat man's fat fingers, his puffing as he sits at the table, his referring to himself as "we." And when she is in bed that night with her boyfriend, we are given the sense that she is at the beginning of a life transformation as a result of her contact with the fat man. NEIGHBORS Bookkeeper Bill and secretary Arlene feel isolated and see themselves as stick-in-the-muds compared to frequent flyer, on-the-go salesman Jim and wife Harriet. Jim and Harriet go away on one of their many trips and, as per usual, leave their apartment key with their across-the-hall neighbors so Bill and Arlene can feed the cat and water the plants. Reasonable request; the courtesy and community of neighbors. However, this time across-the-hall neighbors Bill and Arlene break routine, their envy and jealousy runneth over. First time in the apartment, Bill raids the medicine chest and pockets Harriet's pills and then moves to the living room and helps himself to a couple of good swigs of Jim's Scotch. Next time in, Bill commits even more extreme invasions of privacy. And then Arlene takes her turn invading privacy, an invasion leading to ,ooh, a naughty discovery. The story ends with an unexpected twist, leaving the reader with no doubts as to the depth of the couple's alienation and sadness. VITAMINS The narrator waxes floors during the night at the local hospital and lives with out-of-work Patti who, in her quest for self-respect via employment, resorts to selling vitamins door-to-door. After her initial success, Patti is promoted, given a crew of girls to oversee and an office in the local mall. But the vitamin job takes over Patti's life and she hates it, telling the narrator she even dreams of pitching vitamins to customers. Shella, one of the vitamin salesgirls loves Patti. Shella gets drunk and passes out at Patti's Christmas party. The next morning an injured Shella wants Patti to drive her to the hospital but the narrator won't let Shella wake up Patti. A cursing Shella walks out, never to be seen again. The story continues and we as readers are given a clear view of a world where the quest for love is never a happy one and people fall back into listening to their favorite sentimental music and hard drinking, lots of hard drinking, with dreams of escape to such places as Portland or Phoenix. In Carver country what people are really trying to escape from is their own lives. The author captures their humanity and their despair in telling detail.

  2. 5 out of 5

    s.penkevich

    ‘It ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we're talking about when we talk about love.’ Life has a way of breaking even the strongest of hearts, of dashing families, friendships and lovers against the cold rocks of reality, leaving hopes and dreams to drown beneath the waves of approaching days.Through his short life—the chord of life severed by his own vices—Raymond Carver (May 25, 1938 – August 2, 1988) created a body of work that dives into the wreckage of such lives to ‘It ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we're talking about when we talk about love.’ Life has a way of breaking even the strongest of hearts, of dashing families, friendships and lovers against the cold rocks of reality, leaving hopes and dreams to drown beneath the waves of approaching days.Through his short life—the chord of life severed by his own vices—Raymond Carver (May 25, 1938 – August 2, 1988) created a body of work that dives into the wreckage of such lives to bring their stories back to the surface, giving a voice to the red-rimmed eyes of divorce and the hollow cavities of loneliness, addiction and remorse. These voices sing out in sweet simplicity; stories pared down to the bones of reality without need of any slick mechanics, fantastical ingredients, or even, on occasion, any concrete plotlines, to deliver a walloping punch to the readers gut and soul.Through a style forged in the flames of his tutelage under John Gardner and the controversial editing of Gordon Lish, Carver gives only the bare necessities of story in a deceptively small package permeated with an infinitude of universal messages about life and love while giving voice to a lower-to-middle class being strangled by finance, booze, love, and their own undoings. Raymond Carver lived a life not unlike many of his own characters—the over-educated sorts working blue collar jobs and returning home to a spiraling hell of alcohol and matrimonial disquiet. Coming from a poverty stricken family, Carver grew up with books being a small but important comfort in his life. Marrying 16-year old Maryann Burk when he himself was 19, and bearing their first child a year later, the family spent years criss-crossing the country as Ray enrolled in creative writing courses and worked in sawmills, as a delivery man and janitor (many stories in Carver’s first collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, were written during his night janitorial shifts at a hospital) while his wife waited tables to help support his literary aspirations. The struggles and strife of a working family are illuminated all throughout his stories, and carry with them the deep-felt understanding of someone who has truly witnessed the ugly underbelly of existence. Carver breathes life into his characters with voice and action devoid of artifice or affectation, making them feel so realistic that they often take space in memory as if they were someone you had the misfortune of being stuck conversing with on a late night bus or barstool. ‘That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.’ What truly sets Carver apart is his signature simplistic delivery, often labeled ‘minimalism’ compared to authors such as Ernest Hemingway¹. Prescribing the notion of ‘show, don’t tell’, these stories fructify fantastically without much need of plot to take root in or description to germinate meaning, leaving ample opportunity for the reader to deduce motives and context as seeds in their own mind. While these stories may initially seem like nearly empty, four-wall cell of realism, with just enough lamplight to find their way about, anything additional would feel as bloated adornment or decorative furniture when all is needed is a quiet place to ponder and reflect. Even the beating heart of each story remains relatively hidden from sight, visualized through the spaces left by its absence or seen in quick, shadowy flashed lurking among the forest of words. Similar to the suitcase in the film Pulp Fiction, everything revolves around something that the characters understand and hold like a thorn in the hearts, yet we the readers are left in camera angles carefully placed as to obscure the contents inside. The story ‘Why Don’t You Dance’ is a prime example of Carver’s seeming magic making, in which a man has reassembled the layout of his home in the front yard. In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard. The mattress was stripped and the candy-striped sheets lay beside two pillows on the chiffonier. Except for that, things looked much the way they had in the bedroom – nightstand and reading lamp on his side of the bed, nightstand and reading lamp on her side. His side, her side. He considered this as he sipped the whiskey. So much is said without having to draw attention to it. Especially after an offhanded comment by the man, sitting out getting drunk and selling his stuff to a young couple about to start their first place together, that the neighbors ‘thought they had seen everything by now,’ it can be inferred that there was a breakdown of marriage, but the details are nowhere to be found. Stories like this take hold on a reader through the hospitality of welcoming them into being an active participant and letting their imagination take Carver’s by the waist and go dancing through his pages. Another impressive technique he often applies is to frame a smaller story within a larger story, such as in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love or Where I’m Calling From (the latter included in a Best Stories of American fiction edited by John Updike). The internal stories are told by characters of the external story as a sort of juxtaposition on way to make sense of the world around them. Neither the internal or external are fleshed out, but by pulling the subtly tied strings binding them together a potent portrait of life and love is created. It is his light touch and subtlety that makes for such a powerful and unforgettable read though so much is unsaid and unaccessed. ’The final lines of Why Don’t You Dance perfectly summarize the Carver experience: She kept talking, She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying. The girl tells everyone she knows about the events hoping to find something inside, something she knows is in there but can’t quite reach. Resolution or emotional epiphany is not always present in the final lines, much like in reality. You often come away feeling vague sadness and a carrying a weight pregnant with meaning that you can’t quite access but understand all the same. ‘No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put at just the right place. -Isaac Babel Despite purgatorial settings of life surrounded by crumbling manors of marriage and drowning pools of booze, Carver’s stories aren’t aiming to sink the reader in pit of despair but to capture a bittersweet solace as the characters find a new meaning and perspective caught in a fleeting glimpse during their darker hours. There are incredibly beautiful moments that flower all around, and Carver has the ability to kill with a solitary line or observation. Distance, my personal favorite, features a young man leave his wife and sick child to go fishing, despite her vitriolic pleas against this. Driving, the boy looked out at the stars and was moved when he considered their distance. Such a simple observation at a key moment cracks open the floodgates of interpretation and causes the reader to look at humanity in a new light as well—how sad and strange the distance between human beings, even the ones who love each other dearly. Or take the closing moments of Cathedral, a staple on the college literature degree diet, when a man closes his eyes, allows the hand of a blind man to wrap around his own, and draws a cathedral by feel so the other can ‘see’ the metaphysical power of the structure. Both men are opened to a new understanding, yet it is the man that can see that feels a power so strong, yet one he cannot fully comprehend. Even the death of a child, as in A Small, Good Thing, one of those stories that reads as ‘literature with a capital L’ and makes me want to stand before a classroom and shout ‘this is how you write, this is what a short story is all about,’ is brought to it’s knees by a simple act of humanity by a lonely baker. Subtlety is the key to the power of each story. Carver delivers such angles as to completely mesmerize and pulls the emotional punch as if he were a magician making doves appear out of thin air. Distance is a story centered around a moment of reconciliation and happiness between a young couple, being told by the man in the present before he stands to gaze solemnly out the window. But he stays by the window, remembering that life. They had laughed. They had leaned on each other and laughed until the tears had come, while everything else—the cold and where he’d go in it—was outside, for a while anyways. Carver breaks my heart. Without warning, we are reminded that relationships—even the ones doomed to nightmarish shouting matches under a torrential downpour of tears before severing the limbs of love—have their tender moments. That broken love was once love. That we are all human, all have needs, feelings, and hope, and that we succumb to pain, to vice, to selfishness and self-loathing. The human heart is what beats on each page. Carver delivers pure and true slices of life, where right and wrong are extraneous moralizing in a discussion on human nature. ‘There is no answer. It's okay. But even if it wasn't okay, what am I supposed to do?’ These are the moments in life that shape us forever, and though we may not understand what to do, we have to always keep on moving or perish. The style that Carver has become known and loved—or even hated, seeing as we live in a world where almost everything must inevitably come under the knife of detractors²has an interesting story of development. As evinced in his collection Beginners, containing early versions of the stories that saw the light of day in the re-titled collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Carver was much more wordy and descriptive in his drafts than the Carver typically read. His first published story, Furious Seasons, has been stylistically compared to that of William Faulkner, yet Carver is known for minimalism. While enrolled in John Gardner’s writing courses, Gardner recommended to use fifteen words in place of anything said in twenty five, and Gordon Lish would later advise reducing anything said in fifteen words to a mere five. Lish’s editing of Carver for publication is a highly discussed and controversial topic³, as many stories were edited down by nearly half and arrived on the other side of Lish with major scenes (particularly scenes of emotional closure) removed. This is a discussion better suited for an upcoming review of Beginners, however, it is the sparse and sharp style of Carver that really grabs me. His later stories, especially those under the ‘New Stories’ section of Where I’m Calling From are slightly beefier and lengthier and proceed towards more of a conclusive feel than the earlier ones. Before knowing any of this, I had remarked that Carver’s stories felt like perfect classroom examples of what makes a good short story, and perhaps it is because so much was removed as to leave much open to interpretation, and much of this may be attributed to Lish's keen insight into knowing exactly what is necessary and what is, while still great—I'm sure to a writer each blessed word and mark of punctuation is like a child born from their blood and having someone else feel some are disposible—possibly extraneous in a story that could be made into a lean and deadly beast of literary perfection. Regardless of any opinions on the editing, the style of these stories is outright perfection (and, personally, I find Lish to be the White Knight of the editing pen). They are a stealthy knife through the ribs rather than a walloping punch to the face, and the vagueness is what keeps them haunting your mind like a ghost for days to come. These are stories that really spoke to me, arriving seemingly as if just at the right time to properly ensnare my heart during a brutally snowy winter following a season of dismantling in my own life. It is stories like these that seem more like gifts of consolation from the world than a mere collection of pages between two covers, and the musing and soul searching perfectly combined with my own as I found out what it really was in life that mattered and the people I really wanted to spend it with. Having recently suffered the scars of divorce, many of the depravities and pain found in the stories of aborted loves spoke to me on a deep level. These stories should be court-ordered to anyone filing for divorce. Carver perfectly frames life in his fiction and each story rings true in the heart, since reading these I've often found moments where I think 'I wish Carver wrote this moment'. He captures the very basic human emotion and deftly details the hard moments we all feel at one time or another. These stories are the floor dropping out from under you, the moments when you realized the dream has ended, the realization that love has been lost, the blind eye towards your own undoings or the inability to accept your own addictions. Carver champions human nature in a crisp and clean style delivered with perfect nuance and subtlety and builds vast visions of understanding, realization and reflection. Carver is the writer for me, these are stories I hold dear in my heart and have changed me forever as a reader. These stories remind me why I fell in love with life and literature in the first place. 5/5 ‘certain things around us will change, become easier or harder, one thing or the other, but nothing will ever really be any different. I believe that. We have made our decisions, our lives have been set in motion, and they will go on and on until they stop. But if that is true, then what?’ ¹In the essay Fires, from the collection bearing the same name, Carver admits to having grown up being a fan of Hemingway and notes that Gardner advised him to ‘Read all the Faulkner you can get your hands on, and then read all of Hemingway to clean the Faulkner out of your system’. Carver, however, declines to consider either author as a particular influence, but only as authors that helped spur his desire to write. Interestingly enough, Carver’s pre-Lish work (or manuscripts before reaching Lish), are often compared to Faulkner, whereas the final products that reached publication are compared to Hemingway. But that is a discussion for another day (and forthcoming [maybe] review of Beginners). ²I have read a few accounts of critics rallying against what they considered a glorification of domestic violence and alcoholism, more so than that of his style. Though, like any notable author, many Carver imitators did arise (I can’t quite place the reference, but I recall a poem(?) mentioning repulsion towards the dime-a-dozen Carver knock-offs littering the poets literary circle. I do not believe Carver was attempting to glorify or make light of domestic issues, but to give a voice to these moments as they are grim aspects of life. ³ Stephen King wrote an article for the New York Times taking a firm stance against Lish’s editing, portraying Carver as a people-pleaser weakened by alcoholism being pushed around by a tyrannical Lish with his ‘meat cleaver’ editing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Sumi

    I wanted the first book I read in 2018 to be special, and this classic selection of stories by Raymond Carver – the final book he published during his lifetime (he died in 1988 at the incredibly young age of 50) – fit the bill. Here, presented in chronological order, are 37 stories representing more than two decades’ work. Some of them are among the most powerful and influential works of short fiction published in the late 20th century. Most are written in a clear, unpretentious voice that’s suf I wanted the first book I read in 2018 to be special, and this classic selection of stories by Raymond Carver – the final book he published during his lifetime (he died in 1988 at the incredibly young age of 50) – fit the bill. Here, presented in chronological order, are 37 stories representing more than two decades’ work. Some of them are among the most powerful and influential works of short fiction published in the late 20th century. Most are written in a clear, unpretentious voice that’s suffused with wisdom and hearty good humour but also a particular kind of pathos that Carver captured – and knew – so well. His characters are ordinary people, often from the Pacific Northwest, struggling to get by and faced for the time of the story with a significant complication. A couple’s child might be in a coma after being struck by a car on his birthday (“A Small, Good Thing”); a man might draw on his own history of violence to defend his son accused of stealing a bicycle (“Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes”); another man might worry about his restless, constantly dissatisfied elderly mother (“Boxes”). Most of these stories are about marriages breaking up, slowly or suddenly. The marriage might have broken up already, and a man (it’s usually a man) can’t deal with it – he drops by his ex-wife’s home after he’s trashed it in a jealous rage during the Christmas holidays (“A Serious Talk”); he’s tasked with finding a babysitter/housekeeper for his two children (“Fever”); he’s obsessed with a blockage in his ear while living on his own and constantly drinking champagne (“Careful”). Several stories feature male protagonists who are out of work while their wives take on jobs (“They’re Not Your Husband,” “Put Yourself In My Shoes,” “Are These Actual Miles?,” “Vitamins”). And, oh yeah, there are drinkers. Lots of drinkers. Many conversations take place in a boozy haze of distraction and false cheer. One of the saddest stories I’ve ever read is called “Gazebo,” about a couple who have holed themselves up in a room at the motel where they work while they drink and hash out their marital problems, ignoring the customers at reception. It contains the following paragraph about the couple’s relationship to alcohol: Drinking’s funny. When I look back on it, all of our important decisions have been figured out when we were drinking. Even when we talked about having to cut back on our drinking, we’d be sitting at the kitchen table or out at the picnic table with a six-pack or whiskey. And this one line in the story simply yet profoundly captures their end-of-the-line desperation: "There was this funny thing of anything could happen now that we realized everything had.” Wow. Reading these stories in a short period of time made me sensitive to some of Carver’s techniques: * The faux epiphany: In my review of Carver’s Cathedral, I already pointed out his sometimes contrived use of the narrator simply stumbling upon an epiphany. I noticed it here too. “I don’t know why, but it’s then I recall the affectionate name my dad used sometimes when he was talking to my mother.” (“Boxes”); and “I’d like to say it was at this moment, as I stood in the fog watching her drive off, that I remembered a black-and-white photograph of my wife holding her wedding bouquet.” (“Blackbird Pie”) These passages are like the author nudging us to think: "Oh, here's the significance." * The story within the story. Carver is excellent at having characters tell tales within tales. And sometimes, as in “Whoever Was Using This Bed” and “The Student’s Wife,” the story will become a monologue. (Incidentally, both of these stories feature insomniacs.) As someone who watches a lot of plays, I’m sad Carver didn’t write for the theatre. His dialogue is so good. (Yes, I know the films Birdman and Short Cuts draw on his work.) * The humour. I didn’t appreciate just how funny Carver could be until I read “What Do You Do In San Francisco?”, a story narrated by a postman who tells us about a “beatnik” couple who move into the neighbourhood on his route. The man’s nosiness and judgements on the young couple (perhaps modelled after the young Carver and his then wife/girlfriend?) are so amusing I literally laughed out loud while reading them. * He shows, doesn't tell. Carver can describe a gesture that, in a few words, precisely captures what a person’s thinking. He doesn’t have to tell you someone’s depressed or sad. By showing you what they’re doing, you know that. *** Sigh. Writing all this makes me a little dissatisfied. Picking apart Carver’s stories like this takes away a bit of their magic. There’s a mystery at the heart of stories like “Fat,” “Cathedral,” “A Small, Good Thing,” “Fever,” “Why Don’t You Dance?” and “Are These Actual Miles?” that should stay mysteries. They suggest profound things about the human condition: our frailties, our contradictions, our attempts at redemption. Much has been written about Carver's final published story, “Errand,” a loose retelling of the death of Russian playwright and short story master Chekhov. The setting, of course, is far removed from Carver’s other fiction, and I’m sure it was inspired by the author’s feelings about his own impending death. But what you realize is that it’s not the grand event itself that captures Carver’s interest but the little things happening on the sidelines, the small moments that only an artist like this – surely Chekhov's equal in his insight into human behaviour – could capture, honour and make real and memorable.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

    5 stars In keeping with my “study” of the short story, I figured it was about time I picked up Raymond Carver. (Call me a late-bloomer.) The only story I had previously read by him was Cathedral, which is excellent. This is basically a story about a skeptical, somewhat superficial man who is taught by a blind man how to “see”. The 37 stories in this 526 page collection are arranged chronologically. The final story, called Errand, unpublished at the time of Carver’s untimely death, begins with the 5 stars In keeping with my “study” of the short story, I figured it was about time I picked up Raymond Carver. (Call me a late-bloomer.) The only story I had previously read by him was Cathedral, which is excellent. This is basically a story about a skeptical, somewhat superficial man who is taught by a blind man how to “see”. The 37 stories in this 526 page collection are arranged chronologically. The final story, called Errand, unpublished at the time of Carver’s untimely death, begins with the single word-sentence “Chekhov”; Carver is often compared to Chekhov, who also died at a young age. Carver has also often been described as a minimalist. I understand this description, but find it somewhat simplistic. Sure, he uses simple language, in short sentences; but when required, he gives plenty of time and space to establish the raw material he needs to make a character’s growth believable. Carver’s characters are often summed up as ordinary people; as any random person we might pass in the street – at first glance. His genius was to use this superficial first impression, then to make great use of sub-text to reveal deep characterization. Another oft-heard idea about Carver is that he employed trickery, and would throw the reader a “curve ball” at the end. I would contend that Carver used technique to lull the reader – like the “sleeper” yo-yo move – stringing the reader out, only to bring closure with a snap; with a quick flick, the meaning of the story is disclosed. In the case of A Small Good Thing, I cried. As for What’s In Alaska, when I realized what was really going on in this couple’s marriage, I abruptly stopped laughing. Carver had played me, as a reader, and I was left in awe at his skill. It’s worthwhile picking up this book even if you choose not to read every story. (This is the first time I’ve read an entire collection of short stories without interruption.) But, do read, as well as the ones above, Elephant; So Much Water, So Close to Home; and the title story, Where I’m Calling From. These stories stay with you. They are uniquely Carver – no one could possibly imitate him – because I don’t even believe they can be categorized. And the final seven stories, published after Carver’s death, show that he was heading in a new direction. Even at that point, he had established himself as one of the best short story writers out there. How far and where he might have gone is anyone’s guess.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jim Fonseca

    A collection of short stories from a writer considered by many to be one the master of the modern short story. Many of the stories have a flavor of the author’s youth (let’s say the 1940’s and 50’s since Carver was born in 1938 and died at age 50) even though they were written in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The stories have acquired a patina of quaintness from that era: boys on bikes going fishing in the local creek; door-to-door salesmen; everyone smokes; everyone drinks scotch; the mailman knows ev A collection of short stories from a writer considered by many to be one the master of the modern short story. Many of the stories have a flavor of the author’s youth (let’s say the 1940’s and 50’s since Carver was born in 1938 and died at age 50) even though they were written in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The stories have acquired a patina of quaintness from that era: boys on bikes going fishing in the local creek; door-to-door salesmen; everyone smokes; everyone drinks scotch; the mailman knows everyone on his route; people call their neighbor “Mr. Johnson.” But these are stories of modern life, usually with a raw edge: divorce; alcoholism; infidelity; nasty neighbors. Great stories.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Junta

    Murakami on Carver I've never read so many stories about divorcees, unhappy marriages or relationships, dysfunctional families and alcoholics. Carver's writing was incredibly real, and this collection will definitely stay in my memory - I'll be picking this up again down the track, and maybe I will connect with it on a deeper level as I catch up to the ages of the characters, whom are generally older than 30. I'd been interested in reading Carver since Haruki Murakami had consistently praised Murakami on Carver I've never read so many stories about divorcees, unhappy marriages or relationships, dysfunctional families and alcoholics. Carver's writing was incredibly real, and this collection will definitely stay in my memory - I'll be picking this up again down the track, and maybe I will connect with it on a deeper level as I catch up to the ages of the characters, whom are generally older than 30. I'd been interested in reading Carver since Haruki Murakami had consistently praised him in his interviews. Murakami had translated Carver's collection over 14 years into Japanese, and discussed his personal and professional life and writing in great detail in a 40-page interview devoted to Carver from this book I'm lucky to be able to read as a Murakami fan. Here are some excerpts (my translation) from the interview in September 2004 (for the Japanese literary magazine, 文學界 Bungakukai) : While Carver's prose was realist, his stories contained surprisingly strong anti-realism components. Things incredibly radical. However, there are some people who ignore those parts and just say, "What's new about his writing? All these stories are just plain realism", giving a simple, perfunctory assessment. On the other hand, others insistently praise his writing: "He portrays the everyday lives of American blue collar workers brilliantly", only gathering up what's on the surface. In this sort of context, I think Carver's true literary value was something difficult to ascertain. We should also keep in mind that because Carver was a writer who grew up inside academicism, he used to be entangled in rather fruitless debates such as "Are creative writing courses meaningful?". For such trivial matters to settle down and a proper assessment of Carver's writing to be reached, I think some more time is needed, but in any case, I believe a fair number of the 70-something short stories Carver left will be passed onto future generations as classics. (p.267) What I think Carver did was utilise his own unique system in slicing up the aspects of a situation or the world and reconstructing them into the shape of a story. Of course, this is more or less something many authors attempt. In that kind of operation, the writing was not a ingredient that held an especially high importance for him. It's just that, going down that road of reconstruction, in other words tightening the screw on his own system of writing fiction, Carver's writing style surfaced into existence as a necessary product. In the cases of Fitzgerald and Capote, things sort of begin from the style of writing. Needless to say, that isn't everything, but there's a wide domain managed by the writing. However, with Carver, the writing style was satisfactory with being at a bare minimum. Using bicycles as an example, it would be a little crude to say a bike you'd use for shopping, but something like a ten-speed bike was not necessary. If the writing style was a truly necessary one, then even if it wasn't attractive, what mattered was that it did the job. For example, with such a simple sentence as "The telephone rang while he was running the vacuum cleaner.", just plonking it at the start of a story brings a mysteriously strong presence with it. I still love translating Fitzgerald and Capote, but personally I don't really feel that I'd like to write such elegant prose. Just like with gazing at beautiful craftwork, you'd be impressed, thinking "this is wonderful", but you wouldn't want to copy it. Well okay, even if I wanted to I wouldn't be able to, and what I want to do is something very different anyway. If there's something I've learnt from Carver, it's not going to be something individual that can be picked out, such as the writing style, technique or storytelling. It would be something like a recognition of how an author establishes their own unique system of story composition, and an efficient yet earnest way of bringing that to fruition; or perhaps a readiness to vow to live life, carrying that recognition. (pp. 285-286) For Raymond Carver, the moral bare minimum was to write with desperation, as if expending a piece of his own soul - thus, he couldn't stand people who didn't act on such morals. He was a kind, warm and gentle person, but in an essay he confessed that he couldn't feel affection as a friend should towards those who compromised on writing, or those he could only conclude must be compromising on writing. In such cases, his point is that he wouldn't say "He's a nice guy, but...", but the perspective of "a nice guy" disappears altogether. With someone like that near you, you really feel like you need to be serious and give your all. (p.297) June 25, 2015

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    [2.75] This book includes "the best" stories from other collections including What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Choosing this sweeping collection of over 3 dozen stories as an introduction to Carver was a mistake. Carver is known for his minimalism - the “less is more” school. The flip of that was certainly true for me. The more I read, the less I liked the stories. After the first few stories, I would have rated the book a solid 4 stars. By the end, my rating was hovering around 2 st [2.75] This book includes "the best" stories from other collections including What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Choosing this sweeping collection of over 3 dozen stories as an introduction to Carver was a mistake. Carver is known for his minimalism - the “less is more” school. The flip of that was certainly true for me. The more I read, the less I liked the stories. After the first few stories, I would have rated the book a solid 4 stars. By the end, my rating was hovering around 2 stars. The stories are skillfully drawn. With a few strokes, Carver outlines a boozy, sad world of despair, infidelity and bursts of violence. The problem for me is that after a while, the stories start blending, with an oppressive sameness, like grayscale sketches that need to be filled in.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tommy

    Miles Davis once said, when asked why he played such minimalist, modal melodies when his contemporaries were going for the more fevered, manic sound of be-bop, "I try to only play the notes that matter." That's Raymond Carver. Sparse, deceptively simple, and capable of tearing your soul out by hitting the right notes, consistently, and with purity. Some of these stories sometimes didn't even strike me as I read them. I'd put the book down, walk away, and hours later, not be able to shake the image Miles Davis once said, when asked why he played such minimalist, modal melodies when his contemporaries were going for the more fevered, manic sound of be-bop, "I try to only play the notes that matter." That's Raymond Carver. Sparse, deceptively simple, and capable of tearing your soul out by hitting the right notes, consistently, and with purity. Some of these stories sometimes didn't even strike me as I read them. I'd put the book down, walk away, and hours later, not be able to shake the images. Other times, I'd read a line, and feel ashamed for my abuse of adjectives and hyperbole as a writer, right then and there. Carver cuts through it all, and delivers the literary version of "Kind of Blue" in the process.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    I'm Callin' From Where? "And everything you love starts to disappear, The devil takes your hand and says no fear, 'Have another shot, just one more beer.' Yeah I've been there, That's why I'm here." Kenny Chesney, That's Why I'm Here, 1997 The Hoff, Hammered Upon starting my own literary renaissance, as part of a mid-life identity crisis, about 9 years ago, I hadn't heard of Raymond Carver. On the New Yorker's monthly fiction podcast, I heard a reading of Carver's short story, "Chef's House." I was I'm Callin' From Where? "And everything you love starts to disappear, The devil takes your hand and says no fear, 'Have another shot, just one more beer.' Yeah I've been there, That's why I'm here." Kenny Chesney, That's Why I'm Here, 1997 The Hoff, Hammered Upon starting my own literary renaissance, as part of a mid-life identity crisis, about 9 years ago, I hadn't heard of Raymond Carver. On the New Yorker's monthly fiction podcast, I heard a reading of Carver's short story, "Chef's House." I was moved by this short, short story about a guy named Chef who cleans up temporarily and resumes his relationship with his long-time girlfriend, but then got back to digging his hole. A familiar story if you're close to an alcoholic or addict. Lord knows Carver was, each morning he saw one in the mirror. Carver and Cheever wrote alcoholics better and more realistic than anyone because, as they came to admit, they were so afflicted. I think that's a big reason why their stories are so melancholy, about boozers and bad relationships; they always had the feeling that they couldn't live with alcohol nor could they really live without it. "Booze takes a lot of time and effort if you're going to do a good job with it.” Carver, "Chef's House." "Cathedral" is one of my 3 personal favorite short stories. It's the perfect illustration of why one should reserve judgment on others, be more tolerant, and one could well be changed in the most dramatic, cathartic ways--by those our prejudice tells us seem least likely capable of doing so. This is the last collection of short stories by Carver, who died from lung cancer in 1988 at the age of 50. The stories primarily revolve around 2 related traumas: a collapsed or collapsing marriage or long-term relationship and alcoholism. He survived both. He surely wrote what he knew. It's not a collection that I'd recommend to someone suffering clinical depression. 4.3 stars.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mala

    Obliquity & ellipses define Carver's minimal prose. It's a threadbare style that doesn't give you much to chew on but somehow it captures the threadbare lives scattered across these stories perfectly. There's sadness & desolation here that would numb you to the point of oblivion, the coiling despair tightening & tightening around you like a python's grip till you are swallowed whole into its blackness. Carver takes the ephemera and flotsam of non-descript, everyday life that no one would stop to Obliquity & ellipses define Carver's minimal prose. It's a threadbare style that doesn't give you much to chew on but somehow it captures the threadbare lives scattered across these stories perfectly. There's sadness & desolation here that would numb you to the point of oblivion, the coiling despair tightening & tightening around you like a python's grip till you are swallowed whole into its blackness. Carver takes the ephemera and flotsam of non-descript, everyday life that no one would stop to consider let alone turn into subject for writing & he makes it work because into these scattered shards of truth you'll perhaps glimpse a moment or two from your own experience when life was threatening to go off the rails, lurching from one drink to another, one meaningless relationship to another, one jaded conversation to another, with you there laughing at it all because if you didn't laugh you would probably break down & lose yourself to the ever approaching madness, to the simmering violence that was just itching to let loose. Carver's characters grapple with loneliness, guilt, heartbreak, infidelity, broken marriages, alcoholism, job loss, bankruptcy, a sense of ennui & disconnect from their once joyous core & a hopeless striving to recover that, a desire to escape from their own lives—quite a smorgasbord of woes on their existential platter really! There are some things that give them company—a few run-down records, books on makeshift bookshelves, fishing trip with buddies, chain smoking, cream sodas and hard liquor, always the liquor. There's some genuinely moving stuff here, best enjoyed when you are feeling down because when you hit the rock bottom with these stories; there's no way to go but up—chaos bringing back order, madness leading to sanity. ********** This four stars rating is being given on the overall effect of this collection. As is with any short story collection, it's a mixed bunch. Here are the ones I liked: 'Why Don't You Dance?' : my favourite story- overwhelming sadness here. With the privacy of his life thrown out into the front yard for the whole neighborhood to snicker at, a broken man indulges a young couple who assume it must be a yard sale. 'Where I'm Calling From' : the story which gives this collection its name is remarkable as a textbook example of Carver's indirect style where the horrors of a relapsed alcoholic's life is presented via the recounting of secondary characters' lives at the dry out facility. 'Nobody Said Anything' : a story that broaches the effect of a messy parental fight on the two sons, focusing most of the time on a fishing trip instead. 'Gazebo' : a married couple having a meltdown after the husband's affair is discovered. This story was referred to in Gass' essay, 'A Failing Grade for the Present Tense'— needless to say Gass is no fan of minimalism unless the writer happened to the great Beckett. 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love' : "it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love.” The old couple in this story— yeah, that was love. 'Neighbors' : a young couple in charge of a financially better off couple's house during the latter's holidays, tries to impersonate their lives. 'So Much Water So Close to Home' : this story made it to Altman's Short Cuts (1993), the one about couple of guys on a fishing trip who discover a girl's dead body in the river & carry on with their camping holiday. "Two things are certain: people no longer care what happens to other people; and 2) nothing makes any real difference any longer." 'A Small, Good Thing' : another one that made it to the Altman movie— a couple coping with the sudden loss of their little child on the day of his 8th b'day & a grumpy baker who keeps crank calling them for the uncollected cake: "He was a baker. He was glad he wasn’t a florist. It was better to be feeding people. This was a better smell anytime than flowers." 'The Collectors' : the face of desperation— the vacuum cleaner salesman here reminded me of Jack Lemmon's visit to a potential client's house in Glengarry Glen Ross. 'Boxes' : a son's guilt over his mother's manic house shifting— there's no peace anywhere 'cause no matter where you go, how do you escape from yourself! 'Fever' : a harried father trying to look after his two young children, manage his job & household after his wife leaves him for his colleague. I was hoping the story featuring Jennifer Jason Leigh's portion in Short Cuts would be here—it was a perfect example of the absurdity & irony underlying Carver's humour, but it wasn't here.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Quann

    It's been an absolute pleasure over the past two months to read through this life-spanning collection of Raymond Carver short stories. I was turned onto Where I'm Calling From after reading Glenn Sumi's glowing review, and I'm more than happy to report that he didn't lead me astray! Carver's stories all share the ability to convey powerful emotion with stunning linguistic economy. The language is always easy to read, even if the content is not. Over the course of the 37 stories in this collection It's been an absolute pleasure over the past two months to read through this life-spanning collection of Raymond Carver short stories. I was turned onto Where I'm Calling From after reading Glenn Sumi's glowing review, and I'm more than happy to report that he didn't lead me astray! Carver's stories all share the ability to convey powerful emotion with stunning linguistic economy. The language is always easy to read, even if the content is not. Over the course of the 37 stories in this collection, Carver's scope widens as he begins to incorporate increasingly large casts and tackle new themes with the same keen eye of his early stories. One of my favourite experiences of the collection was seeing Carver's evolution throughout time. It makes it all the more difficult when you consider the "New Stories" section of this book seem to suggest even more exciting avenues were to be investigated before his untimely death at 50. As for the stories themselves, they feel linked by broken homes, collapsing marriages, one-too-many bourbon, infidelity, tragedy, and the mercurial nature of human existence. If that seems too ponderous or needlessly cynical, you need not worry. Carver manages to draw humour from unexpected sources, like in his early story, Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes, where the physical violence is as funny as it is unexpected. Indeed, Feathers is quite possibly the funniest short story I've ever read and my laughter drew the glare of studious, silent coffee-drinkers. Then, just as I would finish a hilarious story, I'd be thrown into a heart-rending tale of loss in A Small, Good Thing. There's a lot of range on display in this collection (more towards the back half than the front), but there's something that makes these stories feel distinctly Carverian. That one story does not feel out of sync with the other is a testament to the humanistic, almost-universal nature of Carver's writing. Even though the tone and intent of each story can be quite different, I had the sense that two characters from different stories could meet in a diner and nothing would feel out of place. Of course, it does help that just about every character would be more than happy to have that discussion over a few drinks. I've been reading a lot of short story collections this year and reading Carver has been a great contrast to some of the other authors I've read. Carver does a splendid job of telling the reader a lot with a little bit of story. Some of these characters and the situations they find themselves in seem familiar in part because they are related to the reader in a way that feels very similar to everyday life. You can feel the tension between two characters from their body language or a change in their dialogue instead of outright exposition. That type of writing is a rare treat. This is a longer short story collection, but one well worth your time. I picked up the collection whenever the mood struck me before barrelling through the last 150 pages over a couple days. Carver's stories provided a much-needed break from dense, challenging reads and helped ground me in really good, unadorned prose. So, it is my hope that my review will prompt your reading of this collection, much like Glenn's review did for me. Thanks, Glenn!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

    A band I loved in high school -- Peter Parker, of course -- had a song named "Where I'm Calling From," which was based on the title of this book, so I was implored to pick it up. I started read it there and then, and while I think some of the brilliance was hard for my young mind to grasp, there was plenty of it that I could appreciate, despite my naivete. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" is one of my runaway favorites - I tried to do my own short story tribute to it (but failed miser A band I loved in high school -- Peter Parker, of course -- had a song named "Where I'm Calling From," which was based on the title of this book, so I was implored to pick it up. I started read it there and then, and while I think some of the brilliance was hard for my young mind to grasp, there was plenty of it that I could appreciate, despite my naivete. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" is one of my runaway favorites - I tried to do my own short story tribute to it (but failed miserably), but I think "Cathedral" might reign supreme. Then again, everything in this is amazing, and there's plenty in here that I need to re-read and reinterpret - the two above are just the two I've read most recently (because I loved them so much even then). I can't explain what it is about Carver that makes him so magnificent - possibly how well he can escalate one situation. Many of the stories focus around one incident, one time frame, so plot-wise they're not very complex, but as far as characters, there are so many layers as you watch people unravel around one event. It all feels very true to life. In that Headley book I read a couple months ago, she made some joke about how a man carrying a Carver book isn't a good sign, and she's probably right. The stories, by and large, revolve around men while the women are generally secondary characters. Not that the women are perfect, but their flaws are just not put center stage as often as that of the men. The centerpiece of each story tends to be about some fucked up aspect of the man's character - alcoholism, insensitivity, ignorance, stubbornness, jealousy, etc. It's good insight, though, and women can still relate.

  13. 5 out of 5

    rahul

    The Stories included here are: Nobody Said Anything Bicycles,Muscles,Cigarettes The Student's Wife They're not your Husband What do you do in San Fransico? Fat What's in Alaska? Neighbors Put Yourself in My Shoes Collectors Why,Honey? Are these actual Miles? Gazebo One More Thing Little Things Why Don't you Dance? A Serious Talk What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Distance The Third Thing That Killed my Father Off So Much water so close to Home The Calm Vitamins Careful Where I'm Calling From Chef's House Fever Feat The Stories included here are: Nobody Said Anything Bicycles,Muscles,Cigarettes The Student's Wife They're not your Husband What do you do in San Fransico? Fat What's in Alaska? Neighbors Put Yourself in My Shoes Collectors Why,Honey? Are these actual Miles? Gazebo One More Thing Little Things Why Don't you Dance? A Serious Talk What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Distance The Third Thing That Killed my Father Off So Much water so close to Home The Calm Vitamins Careful Where I'm Calling From Chef's House Fever Feathers Cathedral A Small,Good Thing Boxes Whoever was using this Bed Initmacy Menudo Elephant Blackbird Pie Errand Just the vastness of this collection makes me want to rate it highly, add to that the fact it has some excellent stories. Stories that felt like tablets, small doses of medicine called reality. Reality in all its bitterness, which you carry on your back like a burden you keep on accumulating without being aware of it. Until one day it shows, in the way you live your life, the emptiness of growing older, parting children, abandoned love. Changing perspectives, changing people. And you at the center of it all, all alone.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    I seem to be one of the few people who managed to read this before seeing the Altman film Short Cuts, which is based on nine of the stories. I also like Short Cuts more than most of my friends. Possibly there's some connection. I seem to be one of the few people who managed to read this before seeing the Altman film Short Cuts, which is based on nine of the stories. I also like Short Cuts more than most of my friends. Possibly there's some connection.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    Suffice it to say that Carver is universally recognized as one of the leading lights of Modern American Fiction.Admired by college professors as well as more casual readers, Carver is as enjoyable a read as you will find.Choosing his heroes from everyday life, Carver is that rare writer who is both well respected yet easy to read. With Carver, it's difficult to choose a favorite.Each story is of the highest quality , a reflection of just how consistent a fine writer Carver is.While this collecti Suffice it to say that Carver is universally recognized as one of the leading lights of Modern American Fiction.Admired by college professors as well as more casual readers, Carver is as enjoyable a read as you will find.Choosing his heroes from everyday life, Carver is that rare writer who is both well respected yet easy to read. With Carver, it's difficult to choose a favorite.Each story is of the highest quality , a reflection of just how consistent a fine writer Carver is.While this collection is not quite up to the standards of his other collection,Cathedral,you will find few that are better.Treat yourself to some time with one of the masters.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Leo Robertson

    This was a casual re-read—I fell out of a Carver mood mid-book so I'm out. I stand by what I said last time below anyway :) Some excellent, some great, too many overall- dampens the effect of each. The stories from Cathedral and especially Elephant are his best :) This was a casual re-read—I fell out of a Carver mood mid-book so I'm out. I stand by what I said last time below anyway :) Some excellent, some great, too many overall- dampens the effect of each. The stories from Cathedral and especially Elephant are his best :)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    A straightforward story about an average married couple who wish to emulate their neighbors. Carver does not add flourish or fancy or much finesse to his writing, but he does examine idealism, materialism, and other themes within this short story. Not the most exciting material but an okay read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ju$tin

    4.5 i enjoyed most of the stories. two in particular that i really enjoyed were elephant (best ending) and a small good thing (all around great. tearjerker) read it. highly recommend. this review would be much better buttttt i lost my notes.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Steve Payne

    It’s difficult to rate this overly-thick selection of short stories by Raymond Carver with just the one score because the quality, for me, varies considerably. There are 37 stories here; I would give 9 of them a 4, 11 of them a 3, and the other 17 would be a mix of 1s and 2s. Some of these stories I would mark lowly for being overly simple affairs. Yes, he’s a minimalist. And yes, the stories are meant to symbolise, comment upon and hint at deeper things, and they do. But some are just too thin. It’s difficult to rate this overly-thick selection of short stories by Raymond Carver with just the one score because the quality, for me, varies considerably. There are 37 stories here; I would give 9 of them a 4, 11 of them a 3, and the other 17 would be a mix of 1s and 2s. Some of these stories I would mark lowly for being overly simple affairs. Yes, he’s a minimalist. And yes, the stories are meant to symbolise, comment upon and hint at deeper things, and they do. But some are just too thin. I can hear, ‘aah, but you’ve missed the point,’ looming. But this comment cannot excuse over-leanness to the point of dullness, which some of these do suffer from. But moving on; there is much to enjoy here - despite all the people down on their luck and misery on offer. I still rate the book a 4 because what is good is very good. Here’s a rundown of my favourites (with over-uses of the words ‘subtle,’ ‘straightforward,’ and ‘simple’):- ‘So Much Water So Close To Home’ is one of Carver’s best. Subtle and deep. A woman is disturbed, and looks upon her husband differently, after discovering he and his friends continued fishing after finding a dead body in a river. ‘I was thinking, lying on the far side of the bed away from his hairy legs.’ Shows where her analyses is going. This is one of the stories used in Robert Altman’s film, Short Cuts (1994). ‘Boxes’ is a fine tale that pulls you into the story of a man and the two women in his life. He lives with his girlfriend, but feels sorry for his mother, who cannot settle into any new house. She moans, looks forward to moving on, but then continues to moan after moving. ‘Feathers’ is another subtle tale; of a husband and wife visiting someone. An ugly baby and a peacock add to the strange atmosphere of this one. ‘Neighbours.’ One couple look after the apartment of another couple who have gone away on leave. Straightforward and yet mysterious, with a smart ending. ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,’ is just that. Two couples talk about love as they get drunk on gin. Subtle, straightforward, and always interesting. ‘Careful.’ A husband and wife separate as he gets over a drink problem. She pays him a visit and helps sort out an ear problem that has been bugging him. This is the type of Raymond Carver story which makes you want to read more Carver. Yes, it’s simple and straightforward, but the subtlety has you thinking of the story on different levels. ‘Cathedral.’ A man is uneasy at first when his wife brings home a blind person. I recognise that I’m using the same words to describe Carver’s stories, but it’s what makes Carver, Carver; simple, seemingly straightforward, and a subtlety that makes you think, upon finishing, what it is you have just read. ‘Elephant,’ is the story of a man not having the best in life. One brother lends money to another. Typical Carver vibe. ‘Blackbird Pie,’ is another typically downbeat story from the author, but an engaging read nonetheless. A woman leaves her man via a letter. The best of his stories are very readable. They can leave you pondering and analysing and I’m sure would make for fascinating discussions in reading groups. Given the downbeat nature and limited themes (which can leave you spiralling in sameness), Carver would have been better served by a much smaller collection. With quite a few deletions, and one or two better stories inserted, such as ‘Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?’ (from the book of the same name), this could have been one of THE great short story collections.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    When I read a book of short stories, I usually wait eagerly for the title story, the one that the book is named after. And then I wonder how that selection was made. In this case the stories are gathered from several previous collections but only one was chosen to be the title of the book. Often in the review of a book of short stories, like this one, the reviewer will summarize several stories to give you a flavor of the book. Other reviewers have done that with Where I’m Calling From so I will When I read a book of short stories, I usually wait eagerly for the title story, the one that the book is named after. And then I wonder how that selection was made. In this case the stories are gathered from several previous collections but only one was chosen to be the title of the book. Often in the review of a book of short stories, like this one, the reviewer will summarize several stories to give you a flavor of the book. Other reviewers have done that with Where I’m Calling From so I will resist. But I’ll say a bit about the title story just in case you are looking forward to that. It’s a story about a drunk who meets another drunk in a place they are getting sober. I figure some of the stories are autobiographical since Raymond Carver was a drunk. He was also a fisher and hunter and some of the stories include fishing and hunting. But not this one. I try to imagine someone telling parts of this story at an AA meeting where someone is celebrating the anniversary of their sobriety. Seems possible from my experience. Drunks are often good story tellers as Carver shows. Where I’m Calling From includes regular parts of a drunk story: tremors, a wife, a girlfriend, kids. It also includes kissing a chimney sweep for good luck. Again, I will not try to summarize the thirty-seven stories in this collection. Judging from the review of the book from the New York Times, these particular stories were selected by the author himself. In putting together ''Where I'm Calling From,'' Mr. Carver decided against collecting all his stories. ''There are some I'm not particularly fond of and would not like to see reprinted again. I just picked up ones that I felt I could live with.'' Many of the stories involve married couples and their not-always-positive impressions of and experiences with each other. I would say the book will leave you sober and thoughtful about life, maybe even slogging occasionally though the gritty minutia. I found myself wondering where I was when I finished reading many of the stories. What has just happened to the characters in the story? What was going to happen next? It couldn’t possibly be a happy ending, could it? Not likely. I wonder why I would want to read a book like this? Well, I like the glimpses I get of my own weird interior life. It makes me feel alive in the midst of what might seem like the humdrum of daily routine because my mind is always bumping though this kind of material. The intricacy and beauty of the snowflake is not easy to capture in the whiteout but I think Raymond Carver might be trying to do that in the midst of his portrayal of so much gloom. Or is it just the opposite of beauty: the putrid smell of the refuse? The promise and threat of the storm cloud is often present at the beginning, in the middle, at the end of the story. We are told that the stories in the book are arranged “generally” in chronological order. I believe the inclusion of the word generally is to both raise our curiosity and our hackles. This is what Carver does with words habitually. Or at least he did that until he died in 1988, the year this book was published, at the young age of fifty. Sometimes the story just ends. He said, “I just want to say one more thing.” And then he could not think what it could possibly be. Carver seems to be a bit of a folk hero; the fact that he died young and sober after being a raging drunk for many years gives him some notoriety and mystery. I want to read more of his stories. This book contains the stories that he selected. Before he died he suggested that there were some of his stories that he would NOT select. But, in spite of that, his heirs collected many unpublished stories and made new books, even new collections after he was dead and buried. I just kept reading this book. No good reason. It seemed as depressing as all get out to tell you the truth. But then I got into the new stories that were at the end of the book. Remember that I said the stories were “generally in chronological order”? So the new stories are the most recent stories. And it occurs to me that with these new stories you can sob and cry OR YOU CAN BREAK INTO LAUGHTER. You had to stop being so serious and LAUGH! So I did and I loved the feeling. Thank you, Mr. Raymond Carver! The new stories were the best stories – maybe because they were written when he had been sober the longest. He may not have been a nice drunk; some of the people in his previously published stories are certainly not nice. He seemed quite well acquainted with them however. This is not to say that the characters in the new stories are nice. They are not especially. But I got more enjoyment from those stories. Five grateful stars as I realized that things just could NOT be as bad as all that. There is drama. There is pessimism. There is riveting writing. You should read the NYT’s article about Carver by Stephen King: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/boo... The 1993 Robert Altman film Short Cuts is based on Carver short stories and is available on DVD. As you delve more deeply into the life and writing career of Mr. Carver, the roles of both his editor/agent, Gordon Lish, and his biographer, Carol Sklenicka, become more convoluted and entwined with his life. Both are people I would like to know more about as I try to understand Mr. Carver.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Adrian Stumpp

    Raymond Carver is generally accepted as the master of the contemporary American short story, and while I have a knee-jerk balk at such high praise of Carver's work, no one more deserving of the epithet comes immediately to mind. Don't get me wrong. I love Carver. He's a very good, very talented, subtle, and perceptive writer. On the other hand, I do not believe he's a very good stroyteller. What he pens aren't exactly page-turners. I've read stories that were difficult to describe because so muc Raymond Carver is generally accepted as the master of the contemporary American short story, and while I have a knee-jerk balk at such high praise of Carver's work, no one more deserving of the epithet comes immediately to mind. Don't get me wrong. I love Carver. He's a very good, very talented, subtle, and perceptive writer. On the other hand, I do not believe he's a very good stroyteller. What he pens aren't exactly page-turners. I've read stories that were difficult to describe because so much is going on in them, but Carver's stories, stereo-typically enough, are difficult to describe because not much of anything happens. Especially in his early work, which is why I'm so stingy with the stars when it comes to rating "Where I'm Calling From." The volume is more of an anthology of Carver's career than a greatest hits collection. All of his collections are represented and the stories appear in chronological order. A handful of as yet unpublished tales round out the fare. Early on the stories feel half-baked, lazy, unrealized. Everything feels like a sloppy first draft. One wonders how it ever got published, let alone collected. At best these stories, such as "Fat," are intriguing character sketches, the kind of brainstorm that might someday result in a good story. Carver doesn't seem to understand the difference between a story and an anecdote or scene, such as in "What's in Alaska?" and "Neighbors." Or perhaps he's challenging the notion that there is a difference. Or perhaps he's one of those people who likes to keep their fingers busy while drinking himself into a cryonic torpor. (NOTE: when did goodreads finally get a spellchecker? I'm not sure I like it. This was the last place I had in which I could spell poorly without being reminded of it.) But then, a little less than halfway through the collection and, effectively, Carver's career, we start hitting disturbingly brilliant little nuggets like "Why Don't You Dance?" and "So Much Water So Close to Home." Finally, down the home stretch, are the real classics, finishing off with "Vitamins" (my all-time favorite Carver story), "Where I'm Calling From", "Fever," "Feathers," "Cathedral," and "A Small, Good Thing." I once read, and liked, that pitchers lose their arms and construction workers lose their backs, but writers just get better as they get older. I can think of half a dozen instances that make this false, but in the case of Raymond Carver it is quite true. Not recommended but for the very staunchest of Carver supporters. For everyone else a "Greatest Hits" collection would do just fine. Otherwise, pick up "Cathedrals" and "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" and call it good.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Eddie Generous

    The majority of stories collected here are five-star reads, that said, I'm glad I parcelled this out over eleven months. Carver's voice and style are fantastic, and most of his stories rely heavily on those two strengths. Character studies over plot. Reality over sensationalism. Monotony explored and conquered. Humanity. Vulnerability. Frustration. Addiction. Love. Lost love. The occasional dead body. Carver is one of the greatest short story writers, period, and this book is a bit like a greate The majority of stories collected here are five-star reads, that said, I'm glad I parcelled this out over eleven months. Carver's voice and style are fantastic, and most of his stories rely heavily on those two strengths. Character studies over plot. Reality over sensationalism. Monotony explored and conquered. Humanity. Vulnerability. Frustration. Addiction. Love. Lost love. The occasional dead body. Carver is one of the greatest short story writers, period, and this book is a bit like a greatest hits. Better sipped than chugged.

  23. 5 out of 5

    William

    I first read Raymond Carver in 1993, and enjoyed the few pieces I read. I never forgot his name, and in 2005 purchased this book, a collection of his best work. It has been on the top of my TBR pile ever since. It is almost impossible to miss the slow and subtle changes in Carver's writing style as he delivers this collection to us. The first 15 stories are rarely more than fifteen pages long, sparsely detailed and not always clear about what the author is trying to say. The best of this first lo I first read Raymond Carver in 1993, and enjoyed the few pieces I read. I never forgot his name, and in 2005 purchased this book, a collection of his best work. It has been on the top of my TBR pile ever since. It is almost impossible to miss the slow and subtle changes in Carver's writing style as he delivers this collection to us. The first 15 stories are rarely more than fifteen pages long, sparsely detailed and not always clear about what the author is trying to say. The best of this first lot is "Neighbors" & "Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes". If the book ended here, I may not have been as pleasant in my review. In the "second part", the Carver I studied came out to play. His best pieces (primarily written in the late seventies/early eighties) are richer with real characters who, for better or worse, must deal with their own demons. I found myself smiling, gritting my teeth and even "guffawing" aloud while I read stories like "What We Talk About When we Talk About Love", "So Much Water So Close to Home", "The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off" & "Cathedral". Each piece delivered an honest, if not sometimes sobering message about life as Carver saw it. The third part, clearly defined because they had yet to be published before his death in 1988, reverted back to the shorter style Carver used previously, and yet, they unfortunately seemed to drag on. Also, by that time, the reccuring themes of abuse, divorce and alcoholism started to make me feel like the last relatively happy person in the world. The ideas Carver had so brilliantly established in Part 2 were now wearing thin. In conclusion, you may need to see a shrink after you've read these stories and realize how shitty life can be, but you'll enjoy the ride to the couch nonetheles. Abstract; sort of what you may expect from Raymond Carver

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    Why should a collection of short stories published in 1983 be included in Bloom's Western Canon, published in 1994? If the definition of the Western Canon is said to include those works which have most influenced Western culture, then surely this collection would not have had time to do so. Instead, I think it is a collection which reflects a small segment of that culture. At first I read several stories in one sitting. They seemed so much alike to me that I decided to read one or two a few after Why should a collection of short stories published in 1983 be included in Bloom's Western Canon, published in 1994? If the definition of the Western Canon is said to include those works which have most influenced Western culture, then surely this collection would not have had time to do so. Instead, I think it is a collection which reflects a small segment of that culture. At first I read several stories in one sitting. They seemed so much alike to me that I decided to read one or two a few afternoons a week. When I started to read them this way I began to see that, while very similar, the stories had nuances that differentiated them one from another. Many of them are written in the first person, but even among those, the character isn't the same person. With the exception of the final two stories, these are working class people. There is a thread of discontent throughout, or of bewilderment, or frustration. In the early stories, alcohol plays a big part. In nearly every story, someone smokes - often a lot of cigarettes. These people have marital difficulties and financial difficulties. I read something of the author's life. It is clear the stories come from his own background. He lived in logging communities in Washington state and in northern California. He married very young, had two children, and after a time he and his wife separated and divorced. He was an alcoholic who died at a young age from lung cancer. Where I'm Calling From is an astounding body of work.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kat Hagedorn

    http://tinyurl.com/4a63ub There's something about reading short stories that really appeals to me. 1) They go by fast. 2) There's a whole cosmos in 10 pages. 3) Only the best can do them right. I'd never read a Carver story, but I have seen Short Cuts (based on Carver stories). A couple of those are in this collection, notably "A Good Small Thing" (which you'll remember as the Lyle Lovett piece)-- breath-taking in its depth and breadth of emotion. Most of Carver's stories are about drinking and ex http://tinyurl.com/4a63ub There's something about reading short stories that really appeals to me. 1) They go by fast. 2) There's a whole cosmos in 10 pages. 3) Only the best can do them right. I'd never read a Carver story, but I have seen Short Cuts (based on Carver stories). A couple of those are in this collection, notably "A Good Small Thing" (which you'll remember as the Lyle Lovett piece)-- breath-taking in its depth and breadth of emotion. Most of Carver's stories are about drinking and ex-wives, but they are not repetitive. They are shocking, brutal at times, always accessible, and heartbreakingly sad. The one that will stay with me forever is "Collectors", about a vacuum cleaner salesman and the "tenant" of a home. Something about the laconic nature of the story juxtaposed with its explosive, never-revealed undercurrent completely grabbed my attention. The last few stories are new, and they are freakily parallel to his own life in his last few years: divorcing his long-separated wife, marrying his new wife, and dying of lung cancer. It makes you wonder about a lot of things.

  26. 5 out of 5

    M.

    Stories about people who are unhappy, will be unhappy, don't know they're unhappy, or are just getting over being unhappy and are almost always drunk or drinking either way. That's a generalization, but a pretty fair one. If you haven't read Raymond Carver before, you should. Too much at one time and their tone becomes a dirge, and some stories are so Carveresque that they read like parodies of themselves (i.e. "One More Thing", "Little Things", and "A Serious Talk"), but for the most past they Stories about people who are unhappy, will be unhappy, don't know they're unhappy, or are just getting over being unhappy and are almost always drunk or drinking either way. That's a generalization, but a pretty fair one. If you haven't read Raymond Carver before, you should. Too much at one time and their tone becomes a dirge, and some stories are so Carveresque that they read like parodies of themselves (i.e. "One More Thing", "Little Things", and "A Serious Talk"), but for the most past they are almost all enjoyable at least, and many of them are really something. I've already read all of these stories before, but I've just re-read some recently and will probably pick through all of them again over the next few weeks. I didn't like them that much the first time I read them, but I think "Fat" and "Neighbors" may be my new favorites. Of course "Cathedral" is my all time favorite. If he never published anything else in his life I think we'd probably still know him from this story.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I read most of the stories in here about six years ago, but I'm rereading "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" right now, and then maybe some others. It's because of this article from the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/20... and the version of that story that's also included that is supposedly Carver's preferred draft. The relationship between him and his editor is awfully unsettling to me, and I'd like to decide which version of the story I actually prefer. I just finishe I read most of the stories in here about six years ago, but I'm rereading "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" right now, and then maybe some others. It's because of this article from the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/20... and the version of that story that's also included that is supposedly Carver's preferred draft. The relationship between him and his editor is awfully unsettling to me, and I'd like to decide which version of the story I actually prefer. I just finished up the longer one from the magazine, and even though I haven't read it in so many years, I already think I prefer the version that was so worked over by the editor. He edited out 40% of the story. Here's a link to the edits: http://www.newyorker.com/online/2007/...

  28. 4 out of 5

    Meghan Pinson

    I've been reading these stories over the last few years, one or two or three at a time when I feel like it & when it's the best book within reach. I can't read them all at once; it's a big book with a lot of stories, and most of them are about drinking and leaving and love, which sounds depressing but isn't. Ray Carver's level, masculine style reminds me of Hemingway's delivery, but Carver doesn't get in the way like Hemingway did. Even when he writes a beautiful line that approaches sentimental I've been reading these stories over the last few years, one or two or three at a time when I feel like it & when it's the best book within reach. I can't read them all at once; it's a big book with a lot of stories, and most of them are about drinking and leaving and love, which sounds depressing but isn't. Ray Carver's level, masculine style reminds me of Hemingway's delivery, but Carver doesn't get in the way like Hemingway did. Even when he writes a beautiful line that approaches sentimentality, he stays out of the way and the line stays strong and clear and clean of ego. It makes me want to read and write more short stories, and also to drink gin and tonics with another couple at a kitchen table while the sun goes down, and I don't even like gin. It's one of those types of books, so it's probably a good idea to take it in small doses.

  29. 5 out of 5

    julieta

    I have been thinking about what it is about these stories that make me kind of depressed. And what it is, I think, is that they talk so much about having had something good and lost it. Most of these characters have had something good in their lives, maybe a family, maybe something they believed in, like love or the possibility of a good life, and that is usually in the past. But on the other hand, it is all told so well by Carver, he always knows what buttons to push, the details that he shows e I have been thinking about what it is about these stories that make me kind of depressed. And what it is, I think, is that they talk so much about having had something good and lost it. Most of these characters have had something good in their lives, maybe a family, maybe something they believed in, like love or the possibility of a good life, and that is usually in the past. But on the other hand, it is all told so well by Carver, he always knows what buttons to push, the details that he shows every time show a sense of humour in all that has been lost. Yes, a little deppressing, but exact, and just plain great storytelling.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Erin Carey

    I do not normally like short stories, I am a fan of the longer novels that really develop a storyline, characters, plot, and have a true climax and ending. However at the beginning of Carver's collection of short stories I was interested in their variety. By time I had read half of the book, I had realized that this variety was actually just a collection of various ways people are depressed and hate their lives. The whole collection to me was just disturbing, depressing, or pointless. I do not d I do not normally like short stories, I am a fan of the longer novels that really develop a storyline, characters, plot, and have a true climax and ending. However at the beginning of Carver's collection of short stories I was interested in their variety. By time I had read half of the book, I had realized that this variety was actually just a collection of various ways people are depressed and hate their lives. The whole collection to me was just disturbing, depressing, or pointless. I do not doubt the talent of Carver, his writing style is impressive, but when it comes down to it, I want to read something I will enjoy; and that was not this book.

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