Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Conversations, cigarettes, and booze
I picked up Raymond Carver's collection Where I'm Calling From last weekend. I've read a few of his stories before but decided it was time to really study him, since he's still the gold standard for short story writing. I must say that a little of Carver goes a long way. I'd like to read one of these every six months or so instead of all at once. He definitely proves the adage that dialog is something characters do to each other. Most of the stories consist largely of dialog, but it's not conversation. The dialog dredges up events from the past that build to some kind of violence, in a different form, in the present. Cigarettes and especially alcohol give the dialog its pace--people stop talking to smoke or drink--and often its subject matter. Occasionally these "beats" get absurd, with step-by-step descriptions of, say, a man picking up a glass, putting it to his lips, taking a swallow, and setting the glass back on the table. It's all very hard-boiled, with paranoid men and long-suffering women and few words over two syllables. It's true that you can write fairly long and tension-filled stories by stretching out an ordinary moment till you see what's hidden in its cracks.