After The Denim by Raymond Carver, 1981
The magic trick:
Merely hinting at the characters’ problems because their biggest problem is their inability to talk about their problems
Form and function, ladies and gentlemen, form and function. Carver writes lean and mean (especially when Gordon Lish edits). He tosses out ideas but doesn’t follow up or fully explain. Major story points are mere implications.
Needle work is mentioned early in the story? What? Is this a story about heroin?
Spotting? The wife is spotting? Is she sick? Is she dying?
That’s the form. The reader has to fill in Hemingway-sized gaps.
But in Carver’s best stories – and I’d put this on that short list – it’s also function. The themes never grow beyond suggestion because the characters don’t talk about them. Or rather they can’t talk about them. They don’t have the emotional intelligence to or perhaps it’s that they don’t have the will.
It’s so true to life. Our problems are incredibly important and warrant our attention, but so often the even bigger problem is our inability to talk about problems. And that’s quite a trick on Carver’s part.
“If we’re going, let’s go.” He looked at the TV and went to turn it off.
“I’m going.” She closed the magazine and got up. She left the room and went to the back. He followed her to make sure the back door was locked and also that the porch light was on. Then he stood waiting and waiting in the living room.
It was a ten-minute drive to the community center, which meant they were going to miss the first game. In the place where James always parked there was an old van with markings on it, so he had to keep going to the end of the block.
“Lots of cars tonight,” Edith said.
He said, “There wouldn’t be so many if we’d been on time.”
“There’d still be as many. It’s just we wouldn’t have see them.” She pinched his sleeve, teasing.
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