Raymond Carver was born in a wet, icy mill-town in Oregon, married at 19, divorced soon after, thought he'd die at 40, drank excessively, loved searchingly, despaired thoroughly, taught drunkenly, sobered up, fell in love, traveled America, published nine books, and lived to be 50.
What does he write about in his first book of stories?
Cheating husbands. Too much whiskey. The biggest trout, sliced in half. Little boys who spy on the hidden inner lives of their fathers and mothers, looking for light beneath locked doors, inside of drawers, after bedtime. Are we crazy?
The haunted still of the Redwood forest, the horror of a white sky at dawn, sleet. Dogs that bite. Women in curlers and bathrobes. It’s snowing outside, and you’re stumbling home, drunk again. Bankrupt. Diet salesmen, vacuum salesmen. Out of work. Ashtrays emptied onto the carpet. Let me just put on my lipstick. Please, God, let me get to sleep.
Between stories. Neighborhoods swarming with kids. The lumber mill. Fog that covers it all. Unplanned fistfights. A matriarch who elects to be mute. Motor grime set beneath fingernails and telephones ringing out of turn. Kitchen-table violence. Confident, sonorous voices, reading Rilke before bed. Cheating wives. Guns and bicycles, creeks and persistently cheerful mailmen. Where were you last night?
The meaning of work, the trappings of love. Raymond Carver’s America.
You can find Carver’s very first collection of short stories, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? as well as What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Cathedral, Elephant, and Fires, a collection of essays, poems and stories, at Books Actually.
(Both photographs taken by the Bookshop Deer, and the one of poppies was taken in one of her and Raymond Carver’s favorite small Northern Californian towns, Arcata.)