Raymond Carver | Critical Review by Joseph G. Knapp

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Raymond Carver.
This section contains 671 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Joseph G. Knapp

Critical Review by Joseph G. Knapp

SOURCE: A review of Cathedral, in America, December 31, 1983, p. 438.

In the following review, Knapp praises Carver's poignancy and emotional depth in Cathedral.

Rarely, and at unpredictable intervals, a writer of genius appears on the literary scene, who waves a wand over the relentlessly banal events of everyday life and transforms them. Such a master of the short story form is Raymond Carver. His first two collections of stories, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, announced to critics that an extraordinary talent had emerged from the obscure town of Clatskanie, Ore. In this latest collection of stories the author takes to its ultimate fruition Emerson's dictum that "all matter is emblematic of spirit." For Carver, all material events are evocative of the spirit, and each is crafted from a surprising perspective.

Hawthorne had found that "moonlight in a familiar room" was the requisite blending of reality and fantasy that short story writers needed. Carver does not need the moonlight, nor even dusk; he performs his sleight of hand even under the glare of the strongest sun. The objects can be as grotesque as false teeth enshrined above a television set or as tentative as the artificial community of motel dwellers living around a communal pool. Each story takes the humdrum and distills from it a poignant human emotion, a feeling that something horrible is about to happen.

Cathedral is a collection of 12 stories, each with a different voice and vision. "A Small, Good Thing," which was this year's first-place winner in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, is a subtle combination of human tragedy and human banality. Scotty's mother has arranged for her son's birthday cake on Monday afternoon, but on Monday morning Scotty is struck by a hit-and-run driver on his way to school. The baker is unaware of this tragic event and calls at night about the boy. The parents, physically and emotionally exhausted from their vigils at their son's bedside, think the caller is a crank and are enraged at these obscene calls. This painful babble is echoed on the professional level with the doctor's false assurance that the boy is surely not in a coma; he simply cannot wake up. What ultimately happens to Scotty, his parents and the baker, however, must be left for the reader to discover.

The tour de force of the entire collection is the title story. The narrator's wife has invited a blind man to dinner. The narrator notes that his blind guest smokes, drinks and even "watches" television; he wonders how the blind can fall in love without seeing the beloved. Eventually it becomes so late that the only program on television is a documentary on cathedrals. The blind man suggests that his host draw a picture of what he is seeing, and his hand will ride his host's hand as he draws. The narrator puts in windows with arches, draws flying buttresses and great doors.

"I kept at it. I'm no artist. But I kept drawing just the same. 'Close your eyes now,' the blind man said to me. 'Are they closed?' he said. 'Don't fudge. Keep them that way,' he said. He said, 'Don't stop now. Draw.' So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now. Then he said, 'I think that's it. I think you got it,' he said. 'Take a look. What do you think?' But I had my eyes closed. I thought I'd keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do. 'Well?' he said. 'Are you looking?' My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn't feel like I was inside anything. 'It's really something,' I said."

In Carver's craft and vision, even the blind see and even the most obtuse of us are "trembling emblems of immortality."

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This section contains 671 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Joseph G. Knapp
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