Chef’s House by Raymond Carver, 1981
The magic trick:
Using the premise and the plot – not the language – to generate lyricism
Nothing beautiful lasts forever. Especially when alcoholism is involved. You probably already knew that, but “Chef’s House” does a great job of exemplifying it in a short, direct punch to the gut disguised as a hug.
If someone is wondering what’s so great about Carver, this is the story I would send them. A great place then to start Raymond Carver Week on the SSMT site.
Everything in the story works together to drive home the theme yet nothing feels labored in the writing. Probably because the language isn’t working hard. It’s simple, straightforward writing. The lyricism is in the situation not the words. And that’s quite a trick on Carver’s part.
We drank coffee, pop, and all kinds of fruit juice that summer. The whole summer, that’s what we had to drink. I found myself wishing the summer wouldn’t end. I knew better, but about a month of being with Wes in Chef’s house, I put my wedding ring back on. I hadn’t worn the ring in two years. Not since the night Wes was drunk and threw his ring into a peach orchard.
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I’ve been thinking about place recently and this story uses place, Chef’s house, to zoom in on the recovering alcoholic. The reader is able to see Wes much like one watches an ant farm in one of those glass cases. And then Carver, without saying so, shows how Wes will not stay sober. Place, Chef’s house, is a character. Carver also does an excellent job of showing at least a couple of decades of Wes’s life in just a few pages.
I love your ant farm comparison. Place is really interesting in this story because chef’s house represents a mindset or a healthier, happier way of life more than anything. The forced exit from such a place – after so short a summer too – is a powerful symbol. Just a really great story.