Raymond Carver | Critical Review by Patricia Schnapp

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Raymond Carver.
This section contains 540 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Patricia Schnapp

Critical Review by Patricia Schnapp

SOURCE: A review of Cathedral, in Western American Literature, Vol. XX, No. 2, Summer, 1985, pp. 168-69.

In the review below, Schnapp, who is a professor at Bowling Green State University, discusses the significance of the inability to articulate essential truths and beliefs in Carver's characters.

A red-eyed peacock startles a couple visiting acquaintances who have an extraordinarily ugly baby. A man tells his estranged wife that he's about to go crazy because of his plugged-up ear. A wife comes home to find her unemployed husband unaware that the refrigerator has quit working and the food is thawing out. In Raymond Carver's Cathedral, his third collection of short fiction, stories are pared down to the banal details that compose most of our lives. And yet these very banal details explode in the mind with reverberating and ominous innuendo.

Frank Kermode has declared that Carver is a master of the short form, and Carver's "A Small, Good Thing," which is included in this collection, was this year's first place winner in William Abraham's distinguished annual "Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards."

There is no melodrama in Carver's spare, laconic, but brilliantly evocative fiction. "Vitamins," for instance, begins: "I had a job and Patti didn't. I worked a few hours a night for the hospital." Patti does get herself a job, however, "for her self-respect." She sells vitamins door to door. Eventually the narrator attempts to have an affair with one of his wife's co-workers, but it is aborted by the advances of a black man at a "spade club" the couple goes to. The frustrated narrator returns home. His wife hears him and, thinking she has over-slept, gets up and dresses. The story concludes:

I couldn't take any more tonight. "Go back to sleep, honey. I'm looking for something," I said. I knocked some stuff out of the medicine chest. Things rolled into the sink. "Where's the aspirin?" I said. I knocked down some more things. I didn't care. Things kept falling.

Things do keep falling in Carver's fictional world. With just a few exceptions, he suggests throughout his stories that we are victims of the continuous collapse of our hopes. In "The Bridle," one of the characters says significantly, "Dreams, you know, are what you wake up from."

At times in his fiction adultery or alcoholism or estrangement afflicts a marital relationship, but always there is the problem of communication, for Carver's characters are essentially inarticulate. But it is precisely their inarticulateness that haunts us. It is what they do not say, what the author refuses to divulge, that is nuanced with menace, tinged with sinister suggestion. Under the quiet surfaces of his stories throb foreboding hints of disintegration and disaster. Carver's characters, of course, reflect our own inarticulateness, our inability to tell others of our anxieties and expectations, of the random and confused impulses which determine our behavior. He writes of our silences.

But these silences in Carver are like the ominous silence before a storm. They portend danger. And we read his stories with increasing alertness and mounting apprehension, waiting for and expecting the worst. Only rarely, as in the title story, do we see, and through a most unlikely agent—in this case, a blind man—the towering cathedral of our possibilities.

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This section contains 540 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Patricia Schnapp
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