With all due respect to Flannery O’Connor, my vote for greatest American short-story writer goes to Ray Carver. And with all due respect to America’s current crop of leaders, my hope is that they convene a summer book club to read Carver’s stories – and heed his central message.
I’m thinking specifically of his collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. As with all of Carver’s work, it’s a collection filled with a cast of characters best suited for the island of misfit toys – or the town in which you live. These are people who are down on their luck, who have fallen out of love, and who are struggling to find the right words to communicate their feelings, their thoughts, and their sense of how (and where) it all went wrong. Reflected in Carver’s spartan prose are the surface realities of life – the quotidian desperation of the things we sometimes say, see and do. But his genius comes from his ability to surface the submerged emotions of living – the weight of grief, the insufficiency of the words we live by, the slow acknowledgement of seeing what we don’t want to see. Carver’s stories are always about what we know, what we are perpetually struggling to know, and what we talk about while we linger in the chasm in between.
Which leads us to the present moment.