Raymond Carver essay

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, by Raymond Carver

“I implore you to come,” she said and then quickly gave him the address and hung up.
I implore you to come, “ he repeated, still holding the receiver. He slowly took off his gloves and then his coat. He felt he had to be careful. He went to wash up. When he looked in the bathroom mirror, he discovered the hat. It was then that he made the decision to see her, and he took off his hat and glasses and soaped his face. He checked his nails.
– from Are You A Doctor, short story by Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver’s minimalism is simply superb. His writing provides the perfect, clean canvas for a strong social commentary that exudes realism. I was first introduced to Carver’s simplicity in his short story collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please (1976). All the way through this volume, mundane characters grapple with the realities of suburban life.

 

Somehow the stories in Quiet, while dry and simple, manage to jump off the page with their sheer truthfulness about issues of gender, money, control and family. Carver’s robustly connects his stories with their common themes. Here, I’m talking about a connection in gendered power which winds its way through this volume.

 

Symbols

One of the last stories in the short story collection is Symbols, details Caroline’s birthday dinner with her husband Wayne. On the surface, everything is perfect within the elegant restaurant that flaunts its exotic aviary. The world-class waiter dotes on the couple under the sparkling lights, serving them expensive French champagne and inviting them on an exclusive tour of the cellar.

But the tension between Caroline and Wayne is palpable, and the superficial glamour turns out to mean nothing. Under the surface, their marriage is hanging on a very tense string. Wayne is jealous, and attempts to control Caroline, almost viciously deflecting the famous waiter’s attempts at (innocently) flirting with her. He is an unlikeable character, seeming to act as he thinks a man should, but falling short of his ideal due to his less-than-polite manner.
I think the most interesting point of this story was the subtle power that Caroline brought; although we often assign power to those who vehemently display it, a more subtle approach is more effective. As Caroline remains in control of the situation, Wayne attempts to control her. Despite this, he flounders in the sophisticated restaurant and must resort to brute force against Caroline, who is more used to the glamour and sophistication.

The Father

In The Father as well, Carver displays the hopelessness of the unnamed male character. In The Father, a proud family is gathered around a newborn baby, lavishing praises on it. Conversation soon turns, though, to who the baby most looks like. It does not much look like its father. Neither does this man look like his own father. The implication in this tiny story (only one and a half pages long) is that two generations of women had affairs and gave birth to men outside their marriage.

The title of The Father wryly mocks the man sitting in the next room. Carver implies that the man knows he is not the father, and is rubbing this fact in through the story’s title. In doing so, he is removing so much power from the man, “turned around in his chair and his face was white and without an expression.”
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please was his first short story collection, and the one that I am drawn to most. It has a freshness and a simplicity that is wholly unparalleled.
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