Short Saturday: Carver, Moore, and Chekhov

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is only held by Truman Capote for A Christmas Memory. Unlike my book reviews, I will talk more about my thoughts and what I learn, why I choose the story and how I come upon it. Unlike books, I’m willing to take more risk for shorts, because they are.. well.. short, so I won’t waste too much time if I don’t like them. Expect to see a lot of trash and hopefully, some gems. As it is now, I am not a fan of short stories. Dare I say, yet? But hey, like people say, it’s all about the journey, not destination.

My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead

Continuing from the first three short stories I read from My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, I read 3 more in the span of a few weeks (taking my time, I know).

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

As you can guess, the title is where Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is from. I read Carver’s Cathedral last year and while the stories didn’t blow my mind, they do have certain charm. By this time I felt like I was sooo familiar with Carver’s style: sparse prose, tackling issues of married couples.

In this story two married couples drinking together one afternoon, talking about love they find around them. Like all Carver’s stories, it struck me as being very male. And somehow the characters always drink. They drink a lot and talk s*it. I’ll call it Carverian, as in this story is very Carverian.

How to Be an Other Woman by Lorrie Moore

I picked this story out of whim. The Other Woman story never gets old. I love it that in this short Lorrie Moore gave a very smart twist. It is told in sort of a set of instructions (How to Be… Get it?)

“When you were six you thought mistress meant to put your shoes on the wrong feet. Now you are older and know it cam mean many things, but essentially it means to put your shoes on the wrong feet.

You walk differently. In store windows you don’t recognize your self; you are another woman, some crazy interior display lady in glasses stumbling frantic and preoccupied through the mannequins. In public restrooms you sit dangerously flat against the toilet seat, a strange flesh sundae of despair and exhilaration, murmuring into your bluing thighs: “Hello, I’m Charlene. I’m a mistress.”

It is like having a book out from the library.

It is like constantly having a book out from the library.”

I was really quite impressed with the story and checked out the author, Loorie Moore, as I never heard of her before. She’s American fiction writer known mainly for her humorous short stories. No wonder. I would love to read more of her works.

RobAroundBooks hosts a challenge called William Trevor vs. Lorrie Moore: A Quest to Discover which of the Two is More of a Modern-day Chekhov. So I wasn’t wrong. Lorrie Moore is a big-shot in shorties world. She also just released a new novel titled A Gate at the Stairs which Ann Kingman raved about a while back.

It’s great timing, because my next story is of Chekhov’s. I just need to read William Trevor after this (which luckily is also included in the anthology).

The Lady with the Little Dog by Anton Chekhov

The Lady with the Little Dog is a bitter-sweet love story between a man and a woman, both are married to other people. In their ripe age they just realize that they have possibly just fallen in love for real and thus have not married the right person.

The story is available to read online. Over there it’s called The Lady with the Dog (link to full story). I don’t know which title is correct. If you’re interested to read Chekov, 201 of his stories are also available online. Go nuts!

Coincidentally, RobAroundBooks also hosts a challenge called Chekin’ Off the Chekhov Shorts and he’s been going through all those 201 stories, with links to his rating and thoughts. Really, I’m not gonna read all 201 shorts, so Rob’s page is a great way to let someone else do the weeding and plucking for you :D

For another opinion, in her review, Eva talked about all three stories above. She seems to like them about the same amount as I did.

What I learned this week: One of my problems with short stories is that most of the time I feel like I have read something similar in the past. I think it’s because with books you have enough time and space to make your book unique, but with short stories there’s so little time.

Did you post any thoughts on short stories this week? I would love it if you leave a link in the comment!

Raymond Carver and Cathedral

Ever since I read A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, which completely blew me away, I’ve been meaning to look for more short stories that could give me the same level of magic. Know that I was (or still am) not a fan of short stories, but I’m feeling much more positive after that ONE right short.

Not long after, I read about Raymond Carver in Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. As Capote was American, I thought it might be a good bet to start with another American short story writer.

A quick search on my own website shows that his works were apparently twice nominated for Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: Cathedral in 1984 and Where I’m Calling From in 1989. Cathedral is also listed in EW’s The New Classics or 100 Best Reads 1983-2008. Not to mention a bunch of other awards the author was getting.

A bookish conversation also led me to know that he is one of Haruki Murakami‘s favorite authors. Murakami has translated Carver’s works to Japanese and his latest book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is an obvious play of Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love short story.

Knowing all these know, it’s weird how I had never heard of him before.

carver, raymond
Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

Going back to my problem with short stories, it’s that apart from being too short and therefore usually fail to engage my interest, they are usually published in book format. I’m already exhausted just by thinking that I need to read every work in the collection even though some are bound to be good and some not so much.

Trying to break free from this barrier, I’ve decided that I should stop being such an obsessive-compulsive for no good reason. I don’t HAVE TO read every single story in the collection. Just randomly pick ones that interest me or educatedly pick ones recommended by some people, and move on with my life. IT’S OKAY.

So that’s what I did with Cathedral. There are 11 short stories in the collection, and I read 4. I also need to return the book to library soon, so the more reason to not force myself rushing through all of them.Cathedral

I think one way to decide whether you want to read the story or not is by reading the first sentence or the first paragraph, since short story is … um… short, so the beginning usually is good indication for the rest of the pages. I’m going to share that with you for the ones I read.

Feathers

“This friend of mind from work, Bud, he asked Fran and me to supper. I didn’t know his wife and he didn’t know Fran. That made us even. But I knew there was a little baby at Bud’s house.”

The first few sentences exactly set the entire story. A childless couple is invited to dinner by another couple with new born baby. The dinner would change the life of the former.

This short was the one mentioned in Reading Like a Writer. I was intrigued by the brevity of the tone and the narrator. I’m not sure if I liked the middle part, but the ending was great. 3 stars

I was wondering after Feather which short I should read next. Then I remembered that C. B. James has this project to gather 1001 Short Stories You Must Read Before You Die. So far he has up to 333 stories and a few of Raymond Carver’s are included. Hence I picked A Small, Good Thing and Cathedral.

Cathedral

“This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night. His wife had died.”

The two first sentences set the entire story. It spans across of only one night in which the couple spend with the blind man. The fact that the title is used for the anthology set my expectation quite high. At the end I don’t think I really got it. The ending made it a decent story though. 3 stars

A Small, Good Thing

“Saturday afternoon she drove to the bakery in the shopping center. After looking through a loose-leaf binder with photographs of cakes taped on the pages, she ordered chocolate, the child’s favorite.”

Again the two first sentences set the entire story. There’s a woman, a baker, and the woman’s child. She’s buying a cake for her son’s birthday. But before the party, the child gets into a car accident and must be hospitalized. The baker, unknowing to what happens, phone the house to remind his customer about the cake.

This one is my favorite of the lot. I don’t have a child so it didn’t evoke much emotion, but I can imagine it work very well for some other people. For me the ending made the best part and added stars to my rating. 4 stars

Vitamins

“I had a job and Patti didn’t. I worked a few hours a night for the hospital. It was a nothing job. I did some work, signed the card for eight hours, went drinking with the nurses. After a while, Patti wanted a job. She said she needed a job for her self-respect. So she started selling multiple vitamins door to door.”

Unhappy couple unhappy with their life and their jobs. 3 stars

At this point I felt like there is a definite pattern to Carver’s stories, at least in this collection. All four stories capture the mundane not-so-happy aspects of married life. The narrator is often the husband, and if not, it sounds very masculine. I think the minimalist prose makes it obviously written by a male author. Do you know any female author who is very brief and sparse in writing?

As you can probably see, I have lukewarm feelings toward most of the stories. But I’m quite happy that I’m left optimistic. I would definitely go on to find more good short stories and I would read more of Carver’s stories in the future, including his famous What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (which I just borrowed from library in My Mistress’s Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro edited by Jeffrey Eugenides). Be assured that I would talk about short stories again in the near future. I start to keep track of short stories I read in my Books Read in 2009.

Coincidentally, the biography of Ray was just out on the 24 November 2009 titled Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life. Check out NPR article on it:

“Confession. The first time I read a Raymond Carver story, I didn’t get it. It was so spare, so lacking epiphan—– I thought: “Huh?””

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