Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver, 1982
The magic trick:
Combining form and function through one expository conversation
Happy new year! And nothing says happiness quite like a Raymond Carver recovering-alcoholic story!
To be fair, this story does take place over New Year’s. Our narrator is starting another year by avoiding his problems – the fear of near-seizures, concerns over his girlfriend’s potential illness. Carver is able to make that point rather ingeniously through the story’s form. The narrator relates J.P.’s story as J.P. tells it to him. Through this telling, the reader is able to get a fully constructed character study to act as a counterpoint to the narrator. At the same time, we see first hand a way in which the narrator is able to duck his own problems. He revels in the stories of those around him; anything to keep his mind off his own worries. The form follows function with follows form. Or something like that. And that’s a neat trick on Carver’s part.
J.P. says she put her hands on her hips and looked him over. Then she found a business card in the front seat of her truck. She gave it to him. She said, “Call this number after ten tonight. We can talk. I have to go now.” She put the top hat on and then took it off. She looked at J.P. once more. She must have liked what she saw, because this time she grinned. He told her there was a smudge near her mouth. Then she got into her truck, tooted the horn, and drove away.
“Then what?” I say. “Don’t stop now, J.P.”
I was interested. But I would have listened if he’d been going on about how one day he’d decided to start pitching horseshoes.