Review: Where I’m Calling From – Raymond Carver

Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected StoriesWhere I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories by Raymond Carver

A collection of 37 stories, Raymond Carver‘s Where I’m Calling From is a great sampler of Carver’s work. His stories are lean, spare and punctuated by what isn’t said. They’re often blunt, dealing with people in a low point of their lives. These are stories about people dealing with death,with divorce, with how life turns out sometimes. They should be sad, but they’re not. They’re honest.

It’s why Carver is one of the greats of American fiction. The way he wrote is one thing, but that’s not why you should read his work. It deserves your time because it’s so unflinchingly honest. The stories here are the kind that could become cliche, could easily become trite. There could be happy endings and everything working. But there isn’t. Life doesn’t work that way, so why should these?

Take the first story in this collection, Nobody Said Anything. It’s about a boy skipping school to go fishing, but it’s also about his approaching maturity and his family approaching a splitting point. The story directly deals with those even as it doesn’t say it. And what it does say, it does so with elegant simplicity.

I heard their voices and looked through the window. They were sitting at the table. Smoke was all over the kitchen. I saw it was coming from a pan on the burner. But neither of them paid any attention.
“What I’m telling you is the gospel truth,” he said. “What do kids know? You’ll see.”
She said, “I’ll see nothing. If I thought that, I’d rather see them dead first.”
He said, “”What’s the matter with you? You better be careful what you say!”
She started to cry. He smashed out a cigarette in the ashtray and stood up.
“Edna, do you know the pan is burning up?” he said.
She looked at the pan. She pushed her chair back and grabbed the pan by it’s handle and threw it against the wall over the sink. (Pg 19-20) 

The way he tells this, with no spare words or undue emotion, makes it stand out all the more. It’s awful and it’s sad and it feels real. These stories really pack an emotional punch. A couple of them hit me harder than anything has in a long time.

The stories here have stuck with me since I read them. They’re all recommended, but if pressed to name some favourites, I especially liked the above story, A Good Small Thing, The Student’s Wife, Vitamins and Whoever Was Using This Bed. But honestly, it’s like choosing a favourite kind of pizza: they’re all good, really, no matter what’s on it.

If you’ve never read Carver before, this is a great place to start: the first, and longest, section of this book is basically Carver’s greatest hits. There isn’t a more affordable way to get a sampling of his work. On that level, this book is essential.

But if you’re a fan already, this book’s role is harder to figure out. The Library of America has a great hardcover collection of all Carver’s fiction. And if you already own some of the other Vintage paperbacks, you already own most of this book. The new stories here are great and I’d argue they warrant it’s purchase, especially if you can find a used copy for a good price. But if you can afford it, the hardback collection is the one to get. It’s got everything and it’s probably going to last a lot longer than my paperbacks will.

My rating: 9.5/10


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