Reprise | Books

‘Call if you Need Me’ by Raymond Carver

Loving and losing: The author.

Loving and losing: The author.   | Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

Stories that are keenly-observed character studies of people as they go about their lives

The American short story writer and poet Raymond Carver was inspired by the Russian great Anton Chekov. As he told the Paris Review in 1983, five years before his death from lung cancer: “Years ago I read something in a letter by Chekov that impressed me. It was a piece of advice to one of his many correspondents, and it went something like this: Friend, you don’t have to write about extraordinary people who accomplish extraordinary and memorable deeds.”

In his stories and poems, Carver appears to have taken Chekov’s advice to heart, writing about ordinary Americans; love and loss, frailty of relationships, stories vividly told, sometimes with “demonic intensity.” As the tenth anniversary of his death neared, Carver’s partner and wife, the poet Tess Gallagher found new, unpublished stories written by “that extraordinary voice” and Call if you Need Me was published in 2000.

It has five “last” stories, and Gallagher felt both happy and sad as she readied them for publication, just like his Japanese translator Haruki Murakami, who “dreaded” finishing his complete edition of Carver’s work.

In her foreword, she reintroduces Carver and tells us of his love for a pure “good read”, for instance, and what counted for him: “Love, death, dreams, ambition, growing up, coming to terms with your own and other people’s limitations.”

“It was the middle of August and Myers was between lives,” is how one of the newly discovered stories, ‘Kindling’, begins. Myers, a recovering alcoholic who likes to write, but is spurned by his wife with a restraining order, packs a few things, boards a bus and goes to live near the ocean.

He rents a room in a house where a couple, Sol and Bonnie, live in bonhomie, far removed from his own circumstances. Sol tells his wife, “I think he is on the run from something... he isn’t dangerous and he isn’t going to make any trouble.” Bonnie can only think of his eyes: “Saddest eyes I ever saw on a man.” It’s a story about starting over, and surely mirrors Carver’s decade-long bout with alcoholism and the fresh beginning he made at writing.

The eponymous story is about a couple trying to repair their marriage. “Are you and Mom going to get a divorce?” their teenager asks the father. “Not if we can help it,” he replies, assuring his son they want to try to work things out. Things unravel in unexpected ways.

In ‘Dreams’, a woman loses her children to a fire after the end of her marriage. Two people are so estranged at the heart that they have to choose separate paths in ‘What Would You Like to See?’

The stories in this collection, an expanded volume of his uncollected work, reflect Carver’s “enthusiasms”, keenly-observed character studies of people as they go about their life, some losing their way, others carrying on despite twists and turns.

The writer looks back at one classic each fortnight.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 10:49:22 AM |

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