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Saturday, December 16, 2006

I re-read through Nick Hornby's playbook more thoroughly, so as to more thoroughly rip it off. Last week, I read:
  • Raymond Carver, "I Could See the Smallest Things"
  • Raymond Carver, "Sacks"
  • Raymond Carver, "The Bath"
  • Raymond Carver, "Tell the Women We're Going"
  • Larry Niven, "The Jigsaw Man"
All those stories came out of two books: Carver's collection WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT LOVE and Ellison's DANGEROUS VISIONS. I said last week that I was in a Carver mood. I wasn't so far gone that I delved too deeply into some Bukowski, though. No, Carver's stuff provided fit last week's malaise just right, I think. Sometimes, I think I take to Carver's stories the same way early teen emo-goth girls take to Sylvia Plaith. I think I can relate to the pain of some of the characters, though not necessarily the characters themselves: The wife caught in her grim reality ("I Could See..."), the son who sees conveniently past his own sins to look down his nose at his deadbeat dad ("Sacks"), or the husband and wife who forgets about obligations when more important things come up ("The Bath").

I confess that I read "Tell the Women We're Going" earlier this year as part of the SHORT CUTS collection. (I still haven't gotten around to seeing the movie.) I understand the lives of the characters in what is, hands-down, my favorite Carver story. The ending that I didn't see coming is what blew me away the first time. It really was the first example I read of a story with an ending that was "unexpected, but inevitable."

It's either coincidence, mental gymnastics on my part, or the application of universal truths scattered through all literature, no matter the genre, but the truth of the lives in Carver's stories dovetail with some writers' visions of future society, DANGEROUS or otherwise. Take a close enough look at the lives of the folks in Carver's world, hell the lives of the people around you for that matter. Think of what society has done in the past to try to escape. I'm not talking about the blatant escapism, either--vice and such. I'm talking about societal readjustment that often comes at someone's expense. Folks of a particular race. Or religion. Or sub-religion. Or sub-culture. People who might otherwise be left alone until someone decides they need to bear the burden for another group's comfort and/or security. That's what we see in "The Jigsaw Man." I won't spoil it here, but I'll leave you a quote by Niven in his afterward. He said, "It's only an accident of history that Red Cross blood banks aren't supplied by the death house."

Passage of the Week
A big moon was laid over the mountains that went around the city. It was a white moon and covered with scars. Any damn fool could imagine a face there.

-Raymond Carver, "I Could See the Smallest Things"
Next week: It's genre time again, I think. Maybe some bits from my backlog of F&SF issues.
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