Everything Stuck To Him by Raymond Carver, 1981
The magic trick:
Keeping the emphasis on the themes by withholding names from the characters
I head into this Raymond Carver Week at SSMT having previously read three stories by the esteemed author. I liked one very much, admired one, and disliked one. So let’s see how this goes.
We begin with “Everything Stuck To Him” and I can add another to the category of “I liked that one very much.” In fact, I liked the story so much I could see myself falling into a Carver wormhole this month.
He controls the reader utterly and completely. The prose is so concise it is as if the reader is viewing the story’s world with one eye closed. We see only what Carver allows us to see. He doesn’t even give the characters names. He wants to emphasize the themes and ideas here and not the particular characters. It is also an effective technique given that one of those key ideas is the notion that husband and wife cease to exist as individual entities with individual interests once they have a child to raise. The story wouldn’t work nearly as well if the characters were fleshed out and full of insights and passions. Their anonymity is the point. And that’s quite a trick on Carver’s part.
What is the point? the boy said. The point is we planned it.
The girl said, I’m your wife. This is your baby. She’s sick or something. Look at her. Why else is she crying?
I know you’re my wife, the boy said.
The girl began to cry. She put the baby back in the crib. But the baby started up again. The girl dried her eyes on the sleeve of her nightgown and picked the baby up.
The boy laced up his boots. He put on his shirt, his sweater, his coat. The kettle whistled on the stove in the kitchen.
You’re going to have to choose, the girl said. Carl or us. I mean it.