Raymond Carver (1938 – 1988) died too young, as did Roberto Bolaño, whom I wrote about in Spanish a few days ago. Carver’s personal demon was alcohol and, though he tried, he just couldn’t lay off of it until he quit, cold turkey, in 1978. His death ten years later was attributed to lung cancer, so tobacco trumped alcohol in the end.
Besides short stories, he also wrote many poems, and I suspect he might have even preferred to be remembered for his poetry over and above his prose. But just as it is with nearly every life lost, those of us left behind are the ones to determine who and what our memories will carry forward.
Carver’s reputation and status among other writers of fiction is not something that other authors and critics all agree upon. He has been compared favorably to Hemingway, he has been judged unjustly because his original stories received heavy editing to reduce word volume by Gordon Lish, his manager, and he he has been criticized for adopting the minimalist model only to use it to hide his laziness.
I have become enthralled by some of Carver’s short stories, and today, I would like to single out “So Much Water So Close to Home”. If you become interested, be sure to look for this story in the recent edition of Carver’s works, Beginnings, as he wrote them, without any of Lish’s subsequent editing. Personally, I couldn’t expect more from any writer’s short story.
It starts out harmlessly enough when Stuart and three of his pokers and bowling buddies head off on one of their twice a year fishing trips to a distant lake. There they get caught up in a moral dilemma that is easy to argue from either side, but, in my mind, very difficult to judge impartially. It made me do more soul searching than many novels have done.
I won’t say more than this so as not to be a spoiler. As my final comment I will say that Carver’s genius really shows up when he decided to write the story in the first person, from his wife’s point of view. Give it a fair read and maybe you’ll agree.