As far as American authors go, Raymond Carver is hardly ever referenced beyond his influence over young writers, which could, very much, be seen as something terribly derogatory. However, the conversation of Carver’s work extends much farther than the exclusion of his universal significance and appeal.
Unfortunately for Carver, our culture does not take the art of poetry and short story writing very seriously, and he just so happened to only write in those two veins. As dead and remembered, he is revered by other authors for his dedication to these minimal arts, but it is these arts that reduced his readership and his authenticity as a serious writer because mostly, only other short story writers and poets read short story writers and poets.
Carver wrote a handful of books in his life, and one after his death. All of these books followed the minimalist structure—the idea of creating dramatically impacted brevity—the idea of Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” where only absolute and concrete details are visible on the surface; all the emotion, morals, thoughts and sentiment are hidden below the sea and must be inferred.
A lot of readers think that is lazy, allowing the reader to dictate the sentiments and feelings. It worked for Hemingway because Hemingway was an adventurer; his stories were about wild places and wild things and wild people that could handle their surroundings—
but this is not what Carver aimed to be. His stories revolve around the dissolution of the American dream. His constant question seems to be: what happens when you attain everything you’re taught to want? His themes did not circle around the actuality of segregation and the dissolution of the American Nuclear Family; his stories were dead set on the absolute impact of these negative American structures.
The problem, for Carver, was audience. He wrote and published between the 1960s-1980s, a time span when Americans did not want to readily accept the faults and shortcomings of the world they created.
We are a culture that thrives on the idea that if you throw enough money at a problem, the problem will go away, but when the problem still exists, we are faced with our inadequacies, and that is something we just have a difficult time believing.
The misfit we can accept: the misfit is a wanderer, the man in the black hat—he is the idea. But the actuality that the American Everyman is simply a wanton and fractured thing, full of fantasies and dreary beliefs, could never be true.
And keep in mind, Carver is a minimalist, which means that the sentiments around these actions are completely up to the reader—a reader that could not accept this reality.
And the reality is, we want the ones we can’t have. Two of his more popular, but impossible to find stories, “Neighbors” and “Are These Actual Miles?” maintain the theme of a world that is not so easily attained, and when the accruement of modern things have reached their peak, the characters are left facing their fractured relationships, relationships that center around marrying the wrong person, about searching for the fantasy, about cheating and leaving in order to find the next good thing.
Maybe if we could have been open to these realities—even in fiction—the constant up and down crises that have occurred from the 1980s until now could have been more steadily marked, more easily avoided. Maybe more of us could have married the right people, and not define our lives by the romance of the things we have collected but are still paying for, everyday, which is truly the ball and chain.