Dan Sandman

22: Will You Please Be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver

In Books, Fiction, Short Stories on 31/05/2013 at 12:00 pm

I found this, well-thumbed book, at my local library’s book-sale for 50p. It was previously owned by, well known play-write and storyteller, Alan Bennett. It was a first, 1978 edition and inside, carefully placed, were included several clippings: an obituary, from The Daily Telegraph, published on August the 4th; several pages of Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver from The New Yorker, where it would have been first published, dated March 15, 1982; and an advert, taken from the same magazine, selling an “Audi Coupe $12,370 suggested retail price “[…] clearly, the quintessential Gran Turismo Sports Coupe.” Clearly.

The obituary opens with the sentence, “RAYMOND CARVER, who has died aged 50, was the master craftsman of the modern American short story.” It then goes on to give a detailed biography of Carver’s life: his marginal upbringing; his battles with alcoholism; and, eventually, his successful literary career. Today, Raymond Carver’s concise storytelling is appreciated by readers from around the world. Through his precisely written prose, Carver gave literary voice to the struggles of ordinary people. Nothing is glamorised, not much happens; what is left unsaid between people and implied by action is important: the meaning between the lines.

It had been two days since Evan Hamilton had stopped smoking, and it seemed to him everything he’d said and thought for the two days somehow suggested cigarets. He looked at his hands under the kitchen light. He sniffed his knuckles and his fingers.

The above extract, the opening lines of Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarets, is a good example of direct story-writing. Instantly, the reader is introduced to the character and his current relationship with addiction. The scene is placed in “the kitchen light”, drawing the reader into an intimate, ordinarily domestic space with the character Evan Hamilton. The inclusion of “sniffed” implies an investigative action. The superfluous is edited: only what is needed remains.

I think that Raymond Carver is best read out loud. His forceful stories are enhanced, by sound and interpretation, when spoken between people. Reading these short stories out loud, preferably with good company, is also a good way of concentrating the mind; and, because every line written is important, these compact works of art require concentration to follow. Through reading this outstanding collection of short stories, spanning ten years of publication, I have been rewarded with many hours of reading pleasure.

I will always treasure this book.

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