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 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.