Remembering Raymond Carver

Yesterday was Raymond Carver’s birthday. In honor of the late author, Rake’s Progress directs you to the proper short story collection and offers up a host of links.

The photo of part of Carver’s tombstone, above, is taken without permission from Marian Brady’s memorial to his grave at Oceanview Cemetery.

In American Authors, Gary Williams recalls Carver’s on-again, off-again drinking problems:

“Alcohol became a problem,” he told Mona Simpson during an interview for the Paris Review in the summer of 1983 (included in Fires). Saddled with an old car, a rented house, and serious debt—as well as the perennial “wagonload of frustration” from having neither privacy nor leisure to write—he “more or less gave up, threw in the towel, and took to full-time drinking as a serious pursuit.”

A great many of Carver’s stories and poems offer a view of life as experienced through an alcohol-induced haze; he is, in fact, one of the finest chroniclers of lives wrecked by booze, from the hopeless and self-deluded speaker of “Cheers” (“They don’t understand; I’m fine, just fine where I am, for any day now I shall be, I shall be, I shall be . . .”) to the dead-ended couple in “Gazebo,” all of whose important decisions have been “figured out” while drinking (“Even when we talked about having to cut back on our drinking, we’d be sitting at the kitchen table or out at the picnic table with a six-pack or whiskey”) to the hapless guzzler of cheap champagne in “Careful” who must rely on his ex-wife to relieve him of his earwax. There is sometimes a certain despairing humor in these portraits, but beneath it is always the feeling that real ugliness can erupt suddenly, without provocation, as it does in the stories “Tell the Women We’re Going,” “A Serious Talk,” “One More Thing,” “The Bridle,” “Vitamins,” and in such poems as “Union Street: San Francisco, Summer 1975,” and “From the East, Light” from Ultramarine. One of the most clear-sighted and devastating of these narratives is “Wine,” a poem from the posthumous A New Path to the Waterfall (1989) about Alexander the Great’s burning of Persepolis and drunken, impulsive murder of his friend Cletus. Carver’s tone is sorrowful, perplexed, yet his gaze is unblinking as Alexander rises from his bed of grief to drink himself oblivious at Cletus’ funeral.

Carver frequently insisted to interviewers that his work was not autobiographical in a direct sense. Yet he acknowledged in “Fires” that most of his stories “bear a resemblance, however faint, to certain life occurrences or situations.” He also indicated to Mona Simpson his preference for work, “whether it’s Tolstoi’s fiction, Chekhov, Barry Hannah, Richard Ford, Hemingway, Isaac Babel, Ann Beattie, or Anne Tyler, [that] strikes me as autobiographical to some extent. . . . Stories long or short just don’t come out of thin air.”


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