I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized My Words, Your Words

My Words, Your Words

Tim Groenland
Beginners, by Raymond Carver, Vintage, 224 pp, £7.99, ISBN: 978-0099540328 Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life, by Carol Sklenicka, £13.04, Scribner, 592 pp, 978-0743262460 On April 20th, 1981 – just over thirty years ago ‑ Raymond Carver’s second major-press collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, was published in the United States. The book was an immediate commercial success: within a few months of its appearance sales figures were impressive enough to warrant additional printings and Vintage had paid $20,000 for paperback rights. More significantly, it was instantly recognised as a seminal literary work; critics and fellow writers alike were quick to acknowledge it as a significant step not only in Carver’s own career but in American literary culture. The collection was Carver’s first to be published in Britain, and his international reputation soared in tandem with his stature in the US. His influence would, in fact, last long beyond his own early death from cancer in 1988. What We Talk About remains his most enduringly popular and widely read work: it was described by Tim Adams of the Observer as “probably the most influential story collection of the past 30 years” and a recent New York Times article suggests that it is still among the most widely shoplifted books in US bookstores. Upon its release, the book immediately established Carver as one of the major writers of the 1980s. Fellow writer Jayne Anne Phillips described the stories as “fables for the decade”, and reviewers rushed to acclaim the author ‑ in The Nation Robert Houston detected the influence of Kafka, Beckett and Hemingway but nevertheless praised the stories as “importantly innovative”, while Michael Wood, in the New York Times Book Review, called Carver a “delicate stylist” and a master of the short story genre. Critics tended to agree that the author’s intense and deliberately limited prose style gave the stories in What We Talk About much of their power, with one observing that “Carver obeys the linguistic limits of his subjects: no metaphor, no elegant variation, no allusions, nothing to learn or recognize or see through” and another noting that “There are no detailed descriptions of objects or places, no stylistic embellishments, no complicated plots, no analyses of motivation or historical background.” On the whole, critics agreed, less seemed to be more. The word minimalism soon came to be a key one in any critical discussion of Carver’s work; critics rushed to praise the sparse, elliptical…

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