‘The Train’ by Raymond Carver

The Train by Raymond Carver, 1983

The magic trick:

Pointing out a profound idea about what we know (and all that we don’t know) about the people around us in life and fiction

This isn’t the first story on the SSMT site that deals in perspective, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last. The story is a sequel to John Cheever’s “The Five-Forty-Eight” told, at least at the start, from the perspective of Miss Dent – the woman who assaults the jerky guy in the Cheever story.

It’s an interesting way to play with the notion of point of view, particularly if you are familiar with “The 548.” We know what this woman has been doing, what she’s capable of, what she’s been through. The two characters who meet her in the train station take her for much less. But that’s the whole point. We don’t really know anything about anyone we meet in the world or in fiction. And that’s quite a trick on Carver’s part.

The selection:

The old man raised his eyes and looked around the waiting room. He gazed for a time at Miss Dent.

Miss Dent looked past his shoulder and through the window. There she could see the tall lamp post, its light shining on the empty parking lot. She held her hands together in her lap and tried to keep her attention on her own affairs. But she couldn’t help hearing what these peoples said.

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

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2 Comments on “‘The Train’ by Raymond Carver”

  1. Ann Graham says:

    I had forgotten about the Cheever story and had never read the Carver one, “The Train.” The first paragraph in “The Train” is wonderful; although, I don’t believe that the Miss Dent from the Cheever story would “put her foot on the back of his head and push[ed] his face into the dirt.” That seems out of character. And, now that I think about it, even the Miss Dent of the Carver story doesn’t seem like the type to shove someone’s face into the mud with her foot. But, on the other hand, I can see how she might and then afterwards be shocked by her own behavior. LOL, like pointing a gun is not something to be shocked by. But the foot on the head seems a lot more personal than the gun, especially an unseen gun, inside her pocket. We’ve all experienced that feeling of, oh my god, I can’t believe I just did that.

    I love, love, love how Carver shows that we have NO idea what a person right in front of us has experienced, or not experienced and uses the old couple as a mirror to bounce Miss Dent off of.

    • bcw56 says:

      Your comment made me appreciate this story far more than I did on first read. You’re right – that really is a Carver thing: the mystery of the person right in front of us.


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