Monthly Archives: September 2011

Gazebo – By Raymond Carver – from the collection: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Next time I break up with someone i am accidentally (on purpose) going to take her Raymond Carver with me and not return any phone calls or text messages enquiring if I took it. I do have a best of Raymond Carver titled Where I’m Calling From, but people rave and rave about the collection: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Yes, the one that Gordon Lish took not so much as an Editorial scalpel but an editorial pick axe to. But the stories I have read from the collection are from other sublime planet.

Really in hindsight I should have dropped that copy my ex had into my boxes of books when I was moving out. Sure I could order myself a copy off Amazon, but I think the stories would have that extra little bit of edge if they were stolen after the break down of a relationship.

124-33 by pwbaker

124-33 by pwbaker

It is hard to single out a story from the collection that particularly stands out. The title story is not my favourite of Carver’s, I prefer the little known stories in the rest of the collection. Are they sketches? Were they once full stories that got pared back to the extent that they’re barely fit Joseph Campbell’s the hero’s journey anymore? A friend at work picked up my best of, when I had left it on my desk one day and read the a story out of it while I was away. When we next spoke, he described the work as akin to poetry. I guess poetry in the sense that it is saying so much more than the words on the page.

I like the story Gazebo. It is a story told in six moments. A lot of alcohol is involved. A man and woman arrange to manage a motel for the season. She makes the bookings, he does maintenance. But he begins to have an affair with one of the maids. The couple deteriorates. He stops doing the maintenance, she messes up the bookings. Guests refuse to stay. He thinks that they can get past it, but she knows they cannot.

I love music, and I look at wonderful collections, like I would look at my favourite albums, with the stories as tracks. To me, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love reminds me of one of my favourite David Bowie albums, Hunky Dorey. It may not seem like much on first glance, but has incredible depth. I have to be careful in case I read Carver so much that I wear a hole in the page with my eyes.

Oh yeah, and if you’re not familiar with the whole Gordon Lish editing Raymond Carver’s work, it is quite an interesting situation, whether the editing helped or hindered Carver’s work. You can check out the following link to see an example of Carver’s work before and after the edits.

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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Carver, Raymond


“The Sensible Thing” – by F. Scott Fitzgerald – first published 1924

At peace among the flowers by Frank Kovalchek

At peace among the flowers by Frank Kovalchek

This is me reading a F. Scott Fitzgerald story, hate it, hate it, hate it… love it, love it, this is one of the best things I’ve ever read.

One must realise rich people have problems too. For a person who loves Raymond Carver or Alice Munro, it would seem odd to read a story about people not having to scrape by a minimum wage paycheque. Most of the middle classes tend to look down at the drama of the working class, but F. Scott Fitzgerald always had his eyes pointed upwards.

Okay, George O’Kelly at the start of the short story “The Sensible Thing” may be only working as a low paid office clerk, but don’t you worry, he is an up and coming engineer and by the end of the story, “he had risen from poverty to a position of unlimited opportunity.” All in the space of 10 months mind. It is what he has lost though. That is, Jonquil Carey, a girl in Tennessee, who he loved to the point of distraction.

It is hard to not equate material goods with suffering. Without, one should be distraught, when material possessions are in abundance however, one would think a person would be ecstatic. Isn’t that what we all dream about, getting rich? But seldom are F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters truly happy. There is a deep emotional pain, and a looking back into the past. In “The Sensible Thing” George’s success cannot allow him to return to the happiness he had with Jonquil. After returning from the jungles of Peru, on his way to command another great engineering project in New York, George stops by Jonquil’s place. But whatever may have been there once is gone.

Perhaps Jonquil was never the right woman for him, but in George’s mind she was. Despite his success, he can’t recapture the time when they had first met and had been happy.

It always takes me time to shrug off my prejudices towards the rich and successful. I don’t think this is unique to me. Who sits in their tiny apartment, worrying how they will pay their electricity bill and thinks about how the rich must be suffering on the other side of town in their mansions. But Fitzgerald presents human, emotional stories that just happen to be set among the rich. Once you’re used to the setting, his work is amazing. And Fitzgerald’s prose is some of the best I’ve ever read. He has an amazing turn of phrase. Every fifth paragraph it feels he gives over to art, and will throw in lines that are so crisp and fresh, it is a delight to read.

If you want to read it for yourself, you can find the story here

“The Sensible Thing” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Fitzgerald, F. Scott


Drivel by Steve Martn

art imitating art by Steve Jurvetson

art imitating art by Steve Jurvetson

Story Title: Drivel

Originally published: 1997

Collected In:  Drivel

Brief Story Description: Rod, the story’s narrator, is the publisher of The American Drivel Review. Normally he only publishes it, but after meeting Dolly at a party he is inspired to start writing it himself. Dolly herself is a painter of paintings, ones designed to be ‘viewed’ by a ‘viewer’ in a ‘museum.’ The two enjoy their irony drenched relationship. The narrator makes sure his pieces of writing get rejected by at least 5 magazines before he publishes them in his own publication. Unfortunately the day comes when the narrator goes to see Dolly’s new picture and likes it unironically. There are no quotations marks at all about his ‘enjoyment’ of it.  As Dolly says, ‘But Rod, if you view my work without irony, it’s terrible.’ But Rod is only able to enjoy it. Thus they tearfully part, unable to go on together.

Why it works humour wise: Steve Martin likes to laugh at modern trends. People do crazy things for the sake of trends. Martin likes to show them up for how ridiculous they are. He also enjoys the powers of words, in this example, really examining what ‘drivel’ is. It is almost postmodern in his examination of words and extrapolating them to their [il]logical conclusion.

Further Comments:

Like Woody Allen previously, Martin is a comedian who crosses into the literary world.  It is hard to find pure writers of comedic fiction such as P.G. Wodehouse anymore. It seems everyone must have a day job, be it stand-up, or be it radio, such as Garrison Keilor. Perhaps there are not many outlets to support pure comedic short stories, and the writers have to derive their main source of income elsewhere. Fiction seems almost a quest for legitimacy for Steve Martin, as though his capering in films like The Jerk needs a body of literature to balance it out. Or maybe he just likes to express himself.

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Posted by on September 3, 2011 in Humour