Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver
Quite possible that this is the strongest collection of fluers du mal that I’ve ever made my way through. Is poison bon bons a better metaphor? How about “the longest collection of quiet, depressing little tales I’ve ever read?” Is that explicit enough? Did I mention that you’ll probably drink more than usual while you read this book? Maybe these are poisoned whiskey sours?
Carver is a modern American master. He captures the middle class and their dissolution and private dissatisfactions. The Great Generation and the Boomers are both well represented in this collection of nearly sixty short stories. They almost all acquit themselves poorly, having made a mess of themselves and the ones they tried to love. The collection is exclusively focused (myopic) on this narrow subset of citizens of the USA. They’re all white. They all live in the burbs. They are all between 18 and 60 in the year 1970, though the stories take place within two decades of that date.
These people have anger, complacency, petty wrongs, sexual frustrations, failed relationships, and alcoholism. Almost all of them.
Sound kinda grim and unpleasant? It is. Beware. If you read three of his stories and decide it isn’t your bag, that’s cool. They won’t get any nicer than those three. This book has thirty-six of them. Seven are new and were never previously published anywhere else.
Carver is a master. Make no mistake. His sense of the desperate, the unsaid, those things that people can’t speak out loud, even to themselves… is superb. His ear for dialog probably isn’t 100% pitch perfect, but if he misses many notes, I don’t hear most of them.
The final tale is a two part story dealing with the last days of Checkov’s life. For your Trivial Persuit needs, Checkov and wife and physician spent his last hour sipping Moet.
These are heavy stories. Where he’s calling from is a dry-out rehab center. It’s Christmas Day.