Sunday, 11 December 2016

Raymond Carver’s Dirty Realism – Short Stories to Savour

Public Domain, Wikipedia

Raymond Clevie Carver was born in 1939 in Clatskanie, Oregon. His parents were a waitress and a sawmill worker. Until his death on 2 August 1988, he lived in Port Angeles, Washington. Carver left high school early and enrolled part-time on a creative writing course at Chico State College run by John Gardner, and later he studied at Humbolt State College. Eventually, after many different jobs, he became an English professor at Syracuse University.

His books have been translated into over twenty languages and his short fiction helped revitalize the genre during the 1980s, with work that presented complex issues in a deceptively simple style of great and evocative power.

Raymond Carver and Dirty Realism

Raymond Carver's fiction, known as Dirty Realism, "...navigates the apparently contingent lives of its small-town protagonists in quizzical unadorned prose," says
The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. His characters are ordinary, everyday, believable and highly fallible human beings. They struggle, often ineffectively, overwhelmed by the chaos of their lives.

Carver tells about the tragic in the same everyday, matter-of-fact voice he uses for the rest of his prose, for example, the beginning of his story, "Gazebo." "That morning she pours Teacher's over my belly and licks it off. That afternoon she tries to jump out of the window.

I go, "Holly, this can't continue. This has got to stop."

Here is the ending of another story, "Tell the Women We're Going." "He never knew what Jerry wanted. But it started and ended with a rock. Jerry used the same rock on both girls, first on the girl called Sharon and then on the one that was supposed to be Bill's."

As Robert Houston in
The Nation, says: "And it is terrifying."

Influences on Carver's Writing

One of Raymond Carver's early influences was that of novelist, Mickey Spillane, best-selling author of hard-boiled American crime-writing. Carver was also influenced by Chekhov, Maupassant, Richard Yates and Flannery O'Connor.
Relationships and Marriage

Carver was married at nineteen years old to sixteen-year-old Maryann Burk in 1957. They had two children in two years. During early marriage he worked at many different jobs to support the family, for example, hospital porter, textbook editor, dictionary salesman, petrol station attendant and delivery man. For much of his life he also struggled with alcohol addiction.

He met the poet Tess Gallagher, in Dallas in 1977 at a Writers' Conference, and subsequently lived with her for eleven years until his death. In 1982, he divorced Maryann and a few years later, in 1988, he married Tess. Six weeks after his wedding, he died of lung cancer.

Praise from the Critics

"Raymond Carver's America is helpless, clouded by pain and the loss of dreams, but it is not as fragile as it looks. It is a place of survivors and a place of stories. Carver has done what many of the most gifted writers fail to do. He has invented a country of his own," says Michael Wood, "
The New York Times Book Review."

"The first impact of all the stories is sharp and visceral. Only afterwards, as the skeleton of each one keeps rattling in the mind, does the painstaking intelligence of their designer become apparent. ~ Meredith Marsh,
New Republic.

"In Raymond Carver's stories, it is dangerous even to speak. Conversation completes the damage people have already done to one another in silence." ~ Denis Donghue.

"I'm nuts about Raymond Carver's new stories... His rumpled men and ragged women will break your heart." ~ Stanley Elkin.

Short Story Collections

Will You Please Be Quiet Please? (1976) ~ What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981) ~Cathedral (1983) ~ Where I'm Calling From ~ Selected Stories (1986)


Near Klamath (1968) ~ Winter Insomnia (1970) ~ At Night the Salmon Move (1976) ~ Where Water Comes Together with Other Water (1985) ~ Ultramarine (1986)

Prose and Poetry

Fires, Essays, Stories, Poems (1983) ~ No Heroics, Please (1992)

  • 1979 ~ Guggenheim Fellow.
  • 1983 ~ The Mildred and Harold Stauss Living Award.
  • 1985 ~ Poetry magazine's Levinson Prize.
  • 1988 ~ Elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
  • 1988 ~ Awarded a Doctorate of Letters from Hartford University.
  • 1988 ~ Brandeis Citation in fiction.
  • The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, Ed. Ian Ousby, Multiple Contributors, Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  • Carver, Raymond, Where I'm Calling From, Selected Stories, Vintage Contemporaries, 1988.
  • Carver, Raymond, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Vintage Contemporaries, 1989.

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