Literary Crush – Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver – What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

 

The most disturbing of reads I find are not the supernatural tales or horror stories or even crime thrillers but those works that meticulously describe the human condition in a state of poverty.

By ‘poverty’ I not only mean financial strain but in particular the all-pervading poverty of spirit which has a soul crushing bleakness that blows through the reader as the coldest of winds. Raymond Carver is a master of conveying this state and the characters that inhabit it.

 

The short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a perfect example of the form of writing known as ‘dirty realism’ or ‘literary minimalism’. Carver explores the lives of predominately working class Americans living or perhaps more correctly struggling to survive in the Pacific Northwest region. Prevalent themes across the collection include the breakdown of marriage through boredom and or infidelity, the devastation of grief, and the futility of both aspirational ambition and love in a world diminished by financial and social pressure.

Images resonate long after the stories finish of claustrophobic lives only tolerable with the short-lived relief provided by alcohol, cigarettes, and or sex. Given this, unsurprisingly, there is also a palpable sense of violence barely restrained within the wafer-thin constraints and facade of a ‘civilised life’.

The closing story ‘One More Thing’ for example, is haunting in its depiction of the anger and desperation of a husband forced out of his home by his wife and child following his own deplorable behaviour of drink and aggression. There is so much pain and so much futility.

‘L.D. put the shaving bag under his arm and picked up his suitcase.

He said, “I just want to say one more thing.”

But then he could not think what it could possibly be.’

Carver employs a stripped-back language as the stories unfold through the naturalistic observations and conversations of his characters. This minimalist technique gets the reader right inside the head of the character. We feel what the character feels and see what the character sees and fully inhabit their world. The detail of the writing is visually striking and in just a line of text he crafts the landscape and sets the mood of the moment. In the story ‘The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off’ Carver writes,

‘It was a warm, drifty day. You could see the dust hanging in the air.’

Beyond setting, Carver keenly captures the physical traits that succinctly depict a character.  In the tragic and powerful story ‘The Bath’ about a child knocked over by a car on his birthday, Carver observes of the mother staring lost and anxious at her son lying in the hospital bed,

‘The woman stood there a while longer, working her lip with her teeth.’

With each story you get the sense of arriving into the narrative where something has happened outside of it, with the effect that the drama builds and lives on in your imagination from what is implicit as much as what is explicitly described.  In the opening story ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ a man’s possessions, the entirety of his belongings, sit in the driveway for sale. The question is why? We are never given the answer, just the careful detail of each object that spoke of a life now changed or ended.

But the most disturbing story of the collection for me is its title namesake ‘What We Talk about When We Talk about Love ’. In this penultimate story two couples in love sit around a dinner table slowly getting drunk. They discuss in a rambling way what they think love is. One suggests even violence and suicide is forgivable in the name of love. Another ends their discussion by suggesting to his horrified lover and friends that love simply doesn’t last, even true love is only true for a limited time. In the context of the whole collection it is a message which is devastating, after all the only thing that doesn’t rely on money is love. The only thing that perhaps can lift a life from poverty is love. The loss of love is the loss of the purpose for life itself. This devastation is embodied by the narrator’s final observation,

‘I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.’

Commentators note that Carver’s own life carries the themes within it that his writing explores. This makes perfect sense and explains that the power in his work comes from personal experience, adding fuel if it is needed to the writing adage ‘write from your heart’ even if perhaps the end result is hard to read.

 

 

 

 

© 2016 All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

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Literary Crush – Kirsty Logan

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I first came across Kirsty Logan at a special event, marking the 40th anniversary of Gay’s The Word, at the British Library.

She read from ‘Underskirts’, a short story from her collection The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales and I  was immediately struck by the sensuality of the evocative language, the vivid images, and thought-provoking premise so much so that I bought her collection, curious to read and learn more of this story and the many others.

‘Underskirts’, I discovered, is about the indiscretions of an aristocratic Lady with a not-so-private passion for her maids.

“They love love as I do. They see the straight line of my jaw along the length of their thighs and they see how it fits, the geometry of bodies…I know how to fill the gaps in a girl.”

The best short stories grip the reader with a tension inherent within them and ‘Underskirts’ exemplifies this as every word is heady with sexuality and power, fizzing with the peril of transgression. The reader senses that it is only a matter of time before the Lady’s behaviour is challenged by one of the many onlookers we hear from.

It is perversely fitting that it is her daughter and the thought of her mother’s ‘‘sins’’ that is the Lady’s undoing. The daughter ‘‘tells’’ her father, blind to his wife’s actions by his arrogance, of her mother’s ‘‘wickedness’’.  The Lady’s banishment to isolated confinement for the rest of her days does not shake the Lady’s deep belief that her passions are not needing of repentance but are rather the very essence of ‘‘grace” and “glory’’.

A striking feature of this collection is the scope of storytelling, sweeping from artificial hearts as the answer to broken ones, to coin operated rent boys and to tiger palaces.  Themes blend and contrast together. The notions of “grace” and “glory” explored in ‘Underskirts’ for example are in stark contrast with the unsettling brutal tale of two young men’s search for their brother, amongst the hard-edged drinkers in the bars in the story ‘The Broken West’.

The reader follows the brothers from bar to bar as they desperately seek the intimacy of the blood bond of their brother, so much so the pressure of it bleeds out from an emotional need to a physical one. Sex with men becomes blurred with the search for the physically familiar, the consolation of the same. Every man and no man they meet have at first-glimpse the potential to meet that need, so their search, their “Investigation” seems endless in all its damaging futility.

“Faces look different close up, and the only way to get that close to a stranger is to kiss them or choke them.”

Throughout the tale the one brother Daniel is desperate for the sexual and physical connection of the other brother Jack. Gay love is entwined with incest in a tortured knot of need.  The twist comes in the final paragraph when Daniel encounters a random man who has all the features of their lost brother. Daniel says nothing. The reader is left knowing that finding what they both seek will lose what one brother wants most.

The theme of longing for something runs through the collection, with all the desperation and emptiness that accompanies it. It is a theme mastered and explored in all its forms, notably the search for love, for identity, for freedom and for home. Arguably, the worst longing perhaps is for that which is gone for good – the longing that accompanies grief.

The story ‘Feeding’, for example, is truly haunting in its vivid depiction of a mother’s loss of a baby. The parched earth of the garden the bereaved tries to nurture into life symbolises the hopelessness of bereavement. The emotional toll is embodied in the stark unravelling of the mother starving herself to death. When the relief of the rain comes it is too late.

“Shelley lies among the tomato plants…Her cheeks are concave, her collarbones so sharp they seem about to pierce her chest. Her belly is famine-swollen, tight and round in the cup of her hip bones. The rain falls into her eyes.”

Kirsty Logan is a writer’s writer. By that I mean she inspires a creative vision which is expansive and borderless. She reminds the writer that your work is only limited by the courage to write down the idea, the vision conjured in your head.

I am excited by the further work of hers I will read and excited by the prospect of the work she has inspired in me to write.

 


Kirsty Logan is a professional daydreamer. She is the author of two novels, The Gloaming and The Gracekeepers, and two story collections, A Portable Shelter and The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales. She lives in Glasgow with her wife and their rescue dog. She has tattooed toes. www.kirstylogan.com

 

 

 

 

© 2016 All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

Review of Love’s Portrait by Omnivore Bibliosaur

“It’s a bit depressing how facts seem to hide more than they reveal.” – Molly Goode, museum curator Less than a year on the job, Molly finds herself tasked with at a make-or-break crossroads with Evelyn Fox, the frosty and exacting Director. In order to carry out the final bequest of their longtime benefactor, George […]

via Review: Love’s Portrait — Omnivore Bibliosaur

Breaking down fun by Anna Larner — Bold Strokes Books, UK

The theme for this year’s BSB book festival blog tour is ‘fun’, and what the word means to us. Well, to be frank, I always approach the word ‘fun’ with the appropriate amount of cynicism and measured caution that the word deserves. This is because how I interpret the word ‘fun’ entirely depends on the […]

via Breaking down fun by Anna Larner — Bold Strokes Books, UK

Best Lesfic Reviews – Love’s Portrait by Anna Larner

Molly Goode draws you into the book and into her from the first dialogue. Committed, passionate, idealistic, open, funny, giving…she is completely adorable. The other MC, Georgina Wright, starts off tilting towards being an Ice Queen, but is mercifully, as open to Molly as Molly truly deserves.

Brief synopsis: Molly is a newly appointed art curator of a museum. Wright Foundation is one of the main benefactors of the said museum. Georgina’s father willed a fairish number of artifacts to the museum, and now Georgina has to hand over the bequest. She seems to be dragging her feet and Molly is assigned the task to get Georgina going on it. However, the first time the two MCs meet, Georgina has come to the museum to find the provenance of one particular painting of one of her ancestors’, Josephine. At that point Molly doesn’t know who Georgina is. The painting captures Molly’s imagination and the story unfolds on two levels: the growing relationship between Molly and Georgina and the relationship between Josephine and Edith (the painter of the portrait) two hundred years back.

This was a complex story to cultivate but has been excellently executed. While all the characters are beautifully developed but the tortured Josephine and completely lovable Molly really burrow into your heart. The relationship between the two MCs grabs you and the chemistry is oh, so there.

Definitely recommended.

4-and-a-half-stars

Review by Best Lesfic Reviews

From Bella to Ylva – Review of Love’s Portrait by Anna Larner

This book pulled me in so amazingly fast I’m pretty sure I got reading whiplash. It was awesome (except for Evelyn, I would like to flatten her nose a couple of times in rapid succession, although, I think that that was the purpose of the character).

It’s the story of Molly and Georgina. Molly is an art curator who is passionate about her job and about diversifying the museum where she works for’s collection.

And when Georgina’s father dies she is put in charge of a foundation that sometimes supports the museum. Also, she has to pack up her father’s house, which is near the museum. She comes to a painting that is neither going to the museum with her father’s other art, or willed to her, and so she enlist’s Molly’s help (through the entirely unpleasant director of the museum, Evelyn) to find out who painted the portrait of Georgina’s ancestor and why.

Needless to say, they get closer as they work together to solve the painting’s mystery, but, they both have issues (of different sorts) and so the question is, can they overcome their pasts to enjoy their present and future?

What was most impressive about this novel was the emotion throughout the book, the whole novel seemed to vibrate with all sorts of different emotions. Especially the stuff that was set in the 1800s, which I loved.

It was an amazing book, complex and compelling.

I received this book via Netgalley thanks to Bold Strokes Books.

Review by From Bella To Ylva