Zee's Reviews > Beginners

Beginners by Raymond Carver
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it was amazing
bookshelves: booksread2011, shortstories

When I picked this up, I didn't look at the author properly. I saw the 'Raymond' and briefly a 'C-er' and just grabbed it thinking it was a gritty detective novel by Chandler. I was disappointed when I got home, however my embarrasing misobservation turned into delight, as I discovery what I could probably call the 'perfect short story'.

Yes, Carver's precision and execution of this much overlooked writing form had me reeling with wonder and envy. Here was finally an author I could enjoy on a reader's level yet also learn about from a writerly angle, which goes to show the literary value of this collection.

Originally published in 1981 as 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love', these short stories soon gained a lot of attention in America and around the world for their candid and gritty exploration of 'real' relationships. As the title suggests, the stories are about love in all its' various guises and is as bold an attempt to capture what love really is, as opposed to what we expect it to look and feel like. Carver's stories oscillate between extremes, as he looks at what happens to the chemistry between two people when things willingly or unwillingly go wrong.

In 'Why Don't You Dance?' and 'Viewfinder' Carver examines the different ways humans respond to a break-up. The former story stands out as the most powerful, as the protagonist completely guts the house of its contents and sets them up on the lawn outside exactly as they were when inside the house. This 'gutting' and remodelling stands as a metaphor for loss and underlines how spaces are sometimes saturated by relationships and become an extension of the lover.

In 'Gazebo', Carver paints the death-throes of what was once a stable relationship. The dialogue between the couple is key, as Carver times speech and prose perfectly to reproduce that unbearable 'tug-of-war' between two wills; the betrayed and the betrayer. The chemistry here is extremely volatile and is nicely offset by a side-story of the perfect married couple. This time a motel acts as the setting, making a statement on the absence of a real 'home' and the negativity energy of a space that was designed to be rented to whoever, whenever.

The house features very heavily in all Carver's stories, no matter what aspect of love he is trying to capture. This gives his work a very sharp 'domestic' edge which when added with his eagle-eyed observations from real-life, makes his prose believable and at times, dark and exceedingly uncomfortable. Having said that however, his stories aren't all this way. In 'A Small, Good Thing' Carver looks at the tragedy of child loss. The story itself ends on a gossamer-like thread of hope, as the grieving parents find peace in the most unlikeliest of places.

What I ultimately loved about these stories was their honesty and how Carver did not sacrifice nor dilute that part of the narrative for aesthetic purposes. There is also the fact that these stories are from a male perspective, which just goes to show that men are not from mars, nor ladies from venus. There is nothing separating the sexes from the pain of betrayal, nor are there separate types or textures of the stuff. We are all wonderfully, mutually, the same. Except perhaps in how we deal with it. In this respect I am reminded of Murakami's 'South of the Border, West of the Sun' a confessional of sort's where Hajime, a happily married thirty-something man suddenly meets his mysterious first love after years of absence, and begins a narrative documenting all the rights and wrongs he has done in the name of love.

A must-read for anyone interested in studying the art of the short story, or indeed any form of writing. Satisfaction guaranteed.

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Reading Progress

April 27, 2011 – Started Reading
April 27, 2011 – Shelved
May 7, 2011 –
page 12
May 8, 2011 –
page 35
May 8, 2011 –
page 35
15.63% "Absolutely loving these short stories on love. Candid and fresh. Carver is a genius."
May 9, 2011 –
page 52
May 12, 2011 –
page 105
May 12, 2011 –
page 105
46.88% "These stories are nothing short of epiphanies..."
May 13, 2011 –
page 138
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: booksread2011
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: shortstories
May 15, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Outstanding review, wonderfully written and great point about the omnipresence of 'the house'. Funny that you mixed Chadler and Carver! Great work.

message 2: by Zee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zee s.penkevich wrote: "Outstanding review, wonderfully written and great point about the omnipresence of 'the house'. Funny that you mixed Chadler and Carver! Great work."

Why thank you :) I'm very glad for the mix up. It led me to an incredible read!

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