‘Preservation’ by Raymond Carver

Carver, Raymond 1983a

Preservation by Raymond Carver, 1983

The magic trick:

Laying out a set of metaphors obviously pointing toward a central theme

Yesterday’s Raymond Carver story, “Chef’s House,” on the SSMT site demonstrated the author’s gift for creating a literary effect with seemingly no effort. You might even call it magic.

Today’s story, “Preservation,” follows “Chef’s House” in the Cathedral collection but it displays none of that effortlessness. This one is working hard. Not to say I don’t like the story. It has an odd realism/grotesque feel that reminds me of some Eudora Welty. And nothing wrong with winning that comparison. It’s just that the symbolism is pretty heavy-handed.

We are introduced to Sandy’s husband, jobless and on the sofa. We then learn that he’s been reading a book about bog mummies. OK. Next up is a refrigerator that suddenly and mysteriously leaks all its Freon, laying to waste all of their food. Subtle it is not, but the message is clear. And that’s quite a trick on Carver’s part.

The selection:

The newspaper came to the house every day. He read it from the first page to the last. She saw him read everything, right down to the obituary section, and the part showing the temperatures of the major cities, as well as the Business News section which told about mergers and interest rates. Mornings, he got up before she did and used the bathroom. Then he turned the TV on and made coffee. She thought he seemed upbeat and cheerful at that hour of the day. But by the time she left for work, he’d made his place on the sofa and the TV was going. Most often it would still be going when she came in again that afternoon. He’d be sitting up on the sofa, or else lying down on it, dressed in what he used to wear to work – jeans and a flannel shirt. But sometimes the TV would be off and he’d be sitting there holding his book.

What do you think about this story? As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.


5 thoughts on “‘Preservation’ by Raymond Carver

  1. Well, this is not one of my favorite Carver stories to be sure. I looked through my copy of The Library of America with its extensive notes about the publication and editing of Carver’s stories and I do not find that Gordon Lish edited this one. I think if he had, it would be about three pages long. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that one of my favorite authors really did need to be edited by Gordon Lish. The kernel of a great story is here but has too much fluff, in my opinion, and that is what makes the bog story reading and the refrigerator kaput seem heavy handed.

  2. We then learn that he’s been reading a book about bog mummies.

    Not at all. SHE is reading a newspaper article about it.

    Subtle it is not, but the message is clear. And that’s quite a trick on Carver’s part.

    It’s not a trick, as you say yourself. It’s an unsubtle pile of forced symbols.

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