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August Meetup: "Where I'm Calling From"

Note:  this will be a book-voting meetup! 

If you would like to vote for our next three books, please arrive by 7:30.  Voting should be concluded by 8:00 pm.  Nominees will be posted on our message board.

Voting is in two rounds:  the first round winnows out the less popular books, and then the top 3 vote-getters in the second round will be our next 3 books.

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Arrive as early as 6:30 to hang out, have dinner, and chat, or as late as 8:00 when we'll begin our formal discussion of Raymond Carver's Where I'm Calling From.

Hope to see you there!

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By the time of his early death in 1988, Raymond Carver had established himself as one of the great practitioners of the American short story, a writer who had not only found his own voice but imprinted it in the imaginations of thousands of readers. Where I'm Calling From, his last collection, encompasses classic stories from Cathedral, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and earlier Carver volumes, along with seven new works previously unpublished in book form. Together, these 37 stories give us a superb overview of Carver's life work and show us why he was so widely imitated but never equaled.  (Amazon Editorial Review)

People who consider Raymond Carver to be a strictly minimalist writer should really read this book from cover to cover. What they will discover is a career on the cusp of change, just before the author's life was tragically cut short. The stories are presented in chronological order. The opening dozen stories or so are classics of minimalist style which reaches its peak with the devastating 3-page story "Little Things" in which a child is literally torn apart by its parents divorce.

But Carver's tone and style changes in the stories that follow. "What We Talk About When We Talk about Love" and the gut-wrenching "So Much Water So Close To Home" take on a new level of story-telling where Carver gives us a more intimate look at his characters. The last two of the previously published stories are nothing like the earlier stories.

In "Cathedral", a typical Carver married man--distant, cynical, and slightly smug--makes surprising contact with another human being, presumably for the first time, in the most unlikely of situations. It is almost a salvation. "A Good Small Thing" (which was a revision of an earlier story called "Scotty") is nothing less than a masterpiece. In Carver's earlier career, this story would have ended bitterly and, perhaps, indifferently. Instead, this story ends up with an astonishing flavor of hope, forgiveness, and even closure.

The seven "New Stories" at the collection's end just drive home the fact that Carver was really moving forward or at least in a new direction. I defy anyone to read "Intimacy" or "Elephant" and say, "Typical minimalism." I would place a heavy bet that the reader would reply the same way I did, "Damn! Damn! Can you imagine what he'd be writing if he were still with us?"

Damn.

Rocco Dormarunno, Author of The Five Points

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  • Mark L.

    I think someone brought up this 1990 movie, "Metropolitan", about the tribulations of young socialites from the Upper East Side -- it is really good and is part of the Criterion Collection (hence on Hulu Plus): http://www.criterion.com/films/774-metropolitan

    August 24, 2013

  • Mark L.

    Here is an excerpt from a long NY Times Magazine piece about the change in Carver's style, whether it was good or bad, and the issue of collaboration in art:

    "Still, a quick look through Carver's books would suggest that what Lish [Carver's first editor, who felt he "created" the signature style] claims might have some merit. There is an evident gap between the early style of ''Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?'' and ''What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,'' Carver's first two major collections, and his later work in ''Cathedral'' and ''Where I'm Calling From.'' ... the early collections, which Lish edited, are stripped to the bone. They are minimalist in style with an almost abstract feel. They drop their characters back down where they find them, inarticulate and alone, drunk at noon. The later two collections are fuller, touched by optimism, even sentimentality.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/09/magazine/the-carver-chronicles.html

    August 6, 2013

    • Mark L.

      "Many critics over the years have noticed this difference and explained it in terms of biography. The Carver of the early stories, it has been said, was in despair. As he grew successful, however, the writer learned about hopefulness and love, and it soaked into his fiction. This redemptive story was burnished through countless re-tellings by Tess Gallagher [Carver's second wife]. Most critics seemed satisfied by this literal-minded explanation: happy writers write happy stories."

      August 6, 2013

  • Kent

    After the meeting I scanned through "So Much Water...". It's a good story. And brings up creepy banality of evil issues. Stuart and supports his family and follows the rules. But he's got the moral sensibility of a 4 yr old. He "didn't do anything" which for him is exculpatory, but for Claire is damning. He's a nornal guy who values normal routines, and resents things that spoil his routines, like a wife who refuses to return to bed and bodies of young girls that break the routine of an annual fishing trip. When his routines are broken he tries to appease Claire with flowers and "love" notes, then bullies her, then when all else fails he calls in his mother to help. He's a moral dope, and in this way he's the simple part of the story. The complicated part (for me) is what does one do with Stuart's? The guy's a 2 X 4, not a sadist or a criminal, just morally dumb. Do you condemn him? Pity him (as Claire does), educate him? The story suggests option 3 is a non-starter.

    1 · August 6, 2013

  • Mark L.

    I liked the observation someone made about there being too many short stories to read all in a row -- it's just too much at one time -- maybe instead of a large "best of" collection like this, we should stick with smaller collections. Although in this case, I felt having the overview of Carver's whole career was interesting and helped get me hooked on him.

    August 6, 2013

  • Giuliana L.

    Nice meal and good discussion — a very enjoyable evening.

    1 · August 5, 2013

    • Mona F.

      I could not agree more. This is a terrific group. Thanks, Mona

      1 · August 6, 2013

  • Howard

    It was good.

    1 · August 6, 2013

  • Mark L.

    Great discussion as always!

    August 6, 2013

  • Susan A.

    I can't believe in our discussion of well-known short story writers we didn't mention Poe or Hawthorne--two classic American greats. My personal favorite short story (or st least the one that most affected me as a young student) was Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" (written 1924). I haven't read it in 30 yrs, I'm sure, but it was shocking at the time I did. Today, in the age of "The Hunger Games" and "The Running Man," I'm sure it would wield less impact, but it pre-dates those works by something like 60 yrs.

    1 · August 5, 2013

  • Chantel G.

    Sad to miss this one- hope you guys make some great choices!

    1 · August 5, 2013

  • Lynn

    Work again. Enjoy the evening!

    August 5, 2013

    • Mark L.

      We'll miss you, Lynn!

      August 5, 2013

  • Anthony O.

    Ugh. Can't make this one. Work stuff. Enjoy!

    August 5, 2013

    • Mark L.

      Oh too bad, Anthony! I'm still enjoying "Red Dwarf" btw!

      August 5, 2013

  • Mark L.

    Good story about the influence of two editors -- one at the New Yorker, the other, his second wife, on Carver's work: http://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/09/magazine/the-carver-chronicles.html?src=pm

    August 3, 2013

  • Giuliana L.

    When I started reading "So much water, so close to home," it immediately made me think of an Australian movie I saw a while back called Jindabyne. I looked it up, and sure enough, the movie was based on Raymond Carver's short story! Did anyone else see the film? http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/jindabyne/

    August 3, 2013

    • Giuliana L.

      Another movie inspired by Carver: Robert Altman's Short Cuts. I recognized the birthday cake/baker/little boy who is hit by a car storyline right away in "A Small, Good Thing," except the physical description of the baker in the story is nothing at all like Lyle Lovett in the movie! http://www.rottentoma...­

      1 · August 4, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Just discovered we already have this book - Flicky, my daughter, studied it this year for Higher IB, she really liked 'One More Thing' and 'Little Things'. Really looking forward to reading this now :)

    May 19, 2013

    • Giuliana L.

      Just read 'One More Thing' and 'Little Things' earlier this afternoon. 'Little Things' is horrifying and heartbreaking.

      August 3, 2013

    • Mark L.

      I just read "Fever" and "Feathers", and maybe it just my mood right now -- but they were both astonishing and awesome! Nobody had to read them to me for me to love them!

      August 3, 2013

  • Mark L.

    So I am liking the book, think Carver has a unique voice, but with the exception of "Gazebo", have not gotten the emotional wallop as when the story is read to me: here is a great podcast of "Chef's House": http://www.newyorker.com/online/2010/10/18/101018on_audio_means

    August 1, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I believe I will not be able to make the meet. I'm enjoying the book and only ready it in between other reads and it seems to be moving on it's pace.

    July 22, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Just building up topic here (I'm in other groups and is always welcoming when talking a little in the group's little message box).
    I was worried that I've spent my $1.60 on a book that was going to be put down on the very first few pages. I kept saying to myself; "you joined a group now, focus!", "Commit!", And "this author reminds me of Junot Diaz". I swear I was angry for the first week on receiving my book. And now I'm on a completely different scene. Lets see what happens. Anyways, looking forward on sharing opinions.
    Hope all are well.

    1 · July 8, 2013

    • Mark L.

      Sometimes we can get a discussion going on the Meetup page, Bejar, it depends on when people finish the book...

      July 20, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      I would agree as well. Does have a few stories to pin out.

      July 20, 2013

  • Aileen

    sorry I'll be away

    July 17, 2013

  • linda d.

    Looking forward to joining

    July 5, 2013

  • Lynn

    I think I read it in 1987 when I moved to Florida. Sure hope it's the same book.

    June 27, 2013

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