I believe that each one of us who has read Raymond Carver’s short stories (Raymond Carver: Where I’m Calling From, Vintage Books, 1989; Raymond Carver: Call if You Need Me, Vintage Books, 2001) has probably noticed how true and reality-based they are. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are based solely on Carver’s autobiographical elements, but rather on his acute observation talent. The fact that they “talk” to us means, though, that as much as they tell a story of a specific person or a specific couple they are universal in the characters and the situations that they describe.
This fact, coupled with Carver’s conscience and attractive writing style, make his stories among the masterpieces of American fiction. Carver’s stories circle much around the issues of intimacy and relationships; of couples and their struggles; of breakdowns and breakthroughs. As such, they depict, in front of our eyes, true, daily-life episodes, common – to one degree or another – to all of us.
As such, Carver’s stories seem, on the surface, to be “simple”; common-day experiences; experiences each one of us might have gone through. But the definition of “simple” is misleading, since complex relationships – albeit common to many of us – are never simple. And even though we might all have gone through experiences of love, and intimacy, and divorce, and joblessness and drunkenness – themes depicted again and again in Carver’s stories – none of us has felt that these were “simple” occurrences, ones which we could have gone through and leave behind us, as if nothing has happened, as if that’s the way life is, as if there was no reason to expect otherwise.
We feel attracted to Carver’s stories since they remind us – each one of us – of at least some similar episodes and situations that have occurred in our own life. His stories, therefore, mirror back to us some of the experiences we ourselves have had. At times they clarify to us whatever it is that we ourselves have gone through, or, as well, make us better understand that whatever we have gone through – in our relationships, with our partners, with our inner state-of-mind – is “normal”; is “common”, is standard (even if for us, personally, it is not standard). But all these only make Carver’s stories even more impressive, even more “universal” in nature. And we cannot but be amazed about his sharp eyes and elegant observations of the human nature – of our human nature.
Such “simple” stories bring to our awareness the complex issues of our own life and relationships. They touch us, in one way or another, and motivate us to reflect about our own situations, past and/or present friendships/relationships, achievements and failures alike.
As such, they not only give us the pleasure of reading, but also, like it or not, force us to look inside, retrospectively, “compare” our life circumstances with those of the characters we read about, and contemplate, while reading and/or afterwards, themes of our own life.
The attractive power of Raymond Carver’s stories, therefore, is their ability to involve us in other people’s life stories while, at the same time, make us reflect on our own