Feathers by Raymond Carver, 1982
The magic trick:
Using comedy to make Bud and Olla’s world feel alien
If the stories here at SSMT have taught me anything, it’s that nearly every single successful writer is a funny writer. Comedy, of course, shows itself in many ways, but I’d argue nearly every story on this blog has some aspect of the comic present. “Feathers” is more obvious in its use of comedy than most. Carver is downright hilarious in this story, as he describes one couple’s visit to another couple’s home and the ensuing baby mania it causes in their lives. The couple whom they visit – Bud and Olla – have a newborn, so that connection to baby mania is obvious. But it’s more than that, and this is where the comedy really enters the equation. Carver’s narrative voice is wry and dry, and the scene he evokes at dinner is otherworldly, with peacocks and ugly babies and crooked teeth. Not only is it incredibly funny, the comedy serves to make a larger point about the sense that entering into parenthood is an absurd venture into alien terrain. Funny and poignant. And that’s quite a trick on Carver’s part.
Fran nudged me and nodded in the direction of the TV. “Look up on top,” she whispered. “Do you see what I see?” I looked at where she was looking. There was a slender red vase into which somebody had stuck a few garden daisies. Next to the vase, on the doily, sat an old plaster-of-Paris cast of the most crooked, jaggedy teeth in the world. There were no lips to the awful-looking thing, and no jaw either, just these old plaster teeth packed into something that resembled thick yellow gums.