Raymond Carver

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Raymond Clevie Carver, Jr. (May 25, 1938 – August 2, 1988) was an American short-story writer and poet. Carver's works were usually brief stories that utilized minimalism and realism. The popularity of his stories contributed to the revitalization of the American short story in literature during the 1980s.


What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981)[edit]

  • Mel thought real love was nothing less than spiritual love. He'd said he'd spent five years in a seminary before quitting to go to medical school. He said he still looked back on those years in the seminary as the most important years of his life.
  • There was a time when I thought I loved my first wife more than life itself. But now I hate her guts. I do. How do you explain that? What happened to that love? What happened to it, is what I'd like to know. I wish someone could tell me.
  • “Something’s died in me,” she goes. “It took a long time for it to do it, but it’s dead. You’ve killed something, just like you’d took an axe to it. Everything is dirt now."
  • “All this, all of this love we're talking about, it would just be a memory. Maybe not even a memory. Am I wrong? Am I way off base? Because I want you to set me straight if you think I'm wrong. I want to know. I mean, I don't know anything, and I'm the first one to admit it.”
  • A man can go along obeying all the rules and then it don’t matter a damn anymore.
  • “My heart is broken,” she goes. “It’s turned to a piece of stone. I’m no good. That’s what’s as bad as anything, that I’m no good anymore.”
  • Drinking’s funny. When I look back on it, all of our important decisions have been figured out when we were drinking. Even when we talked about having to cut back on drinking, we’d be sitting at the kitchen table or out at the picnic table with a six-pack or whiskey.

Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Prose (2000)[edit]

On Writing[edit]

  • It's possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman's earring—with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader's spine—the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it. That's the kind of writing that most interests me.
    • Essay 'On writing' - p.89 ['On Writing' is also printed in 'Fires' (2009)]
  • Evan Connell said once that he knew he was finished with a short story when he found himself going through it and taking out commas and then going through the story again and putting commas back in the same places. I like that way of working on something. I respect that kind of care for what is being done. That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say. If the words are heavy with the writer's own unbridled emotions, or if they are imprecise and inaccurate for some other reason—if the words are in any way blurred—the reader's eyes will slide right over them and nothing will be achieved. The reader's own artistic sense will simply not be engaged. Henry James called this sort of hapless writing "weak specification".
    • Essay 'On writing' - p.90


  • John Gardner would take one of my early efforts at a story and go over it with me. I remember him as being very patient, wanting me to understand what he was trying to show me, telling me over and over how important it was to have the right words saying what I wanted them to say. Nothing vague or blurred, no smoked-glass prose. And he kept drumming at me the importance of using—I don't know how else to say it—common language, the language of normal discourse, the language we speak to each other in.
    [...] All I know is that the advice he was handing out in those days was just what I needed at that time. He was a wonderful teacher. It was a great thing to have happen to me at that period of my life, to have someone who took me seriously enough to sit down and go over a manuscript with me. I knew something crucial was happening to me, something that mattered. He helped me to see how important it was to say exactly what I wanted to say and nothing else; not to use "literary" words or "pseudo-poetic" language.
    He taught me to use contractions in my writing. He helped show me how to say what I wanted to say and to use the minimum number of words to do so. He made me see that absolutely everything was important in a short story. It was of consequence where the commas and periods went.
    • Essay, "Fires" - p.103-104, 104

John Gardner: The Writer as Teacher[edit]

  • I don't know how Gardner might have been with other students when it came time to have conferences with them about their work. I suspect he gave everybody a good amount of attention. But it was and still is my impression that during that period he took my stories more seriously, read them closer and more carefully, than I had any right to expect. I was completely unprepared for the kind of criticism I received from him. Before our conference he would have marked up my story, crossing out unacceptable sentences, phrases, individual words, even some of the punctuation; and he gave me to understand that these deletions were not negotiable. In other cases he would bracket sentences, phrases, or individual words, and these were items we'd talk about, these cases were negotiable. And he wouldn't hesitate to add something to what I'd written—a word here and there, or else a few words, maybe a sentence that would make clear what I was trying to say. We'd discuss commas in my story as if nothing else in the world mattered more at that moment—and, indeed, it did not. He was always looking to find something to praise. When there was a sentence, a line of dialogue, or a narrative passage that he liked, something that he thought "worked" and moved the story along in some pleasant or unexpected way, he'd write "Nice" in the margin, or else "Good!" And seeing these comments, my heart would lift.
    It was close, line-by-line criticism he was giving me, and the reasons behind the criticism, why something ought to be this way instead of that; and it was invaluable to me in my development as a writer. After this kind of detailed talk about the text, we'd talk about the larger concerns of the story, the "problem" it was trying to throw light on, the conflict it was trying to grapple with, and how the story might or might not fit into the grand scheme of story writing. It was his conviction that if the words in the story were blurred because of the author's insensitivity, carelessness, or sentimentality, then the story suffered a tremendous handicap. But there was something even worse and something that must be avoided at all costs: if the words and the sentiment were dishonest, the author was faking it, writing about things he didn't care about or believe in, then nobody could ever care anything about it.
    A writer's value and craft. This is what the man taught and what he stood for, and this is what I've kept by me in the years since that brief but all-important time.
    • "John Gardner: The Writer as Teacher" - p.112-113 [This text was part of Raymond Carver's Foreword to John Gardner's book "On Becoming a Novelist" (1983), published shortly after John Gardner's death. That Foreword is reproduced in full in 'Call If You Need Me'.]

On Rewriting[edit]

  • I like to mess around with my stories. I'd rather tinker with a story after writing it, and then tinker some more, changing this, changing that, than have to write the story in the first place. That initial writing just seems to me the hard place I have to get to in order to go on and have fun with the story. Rewriting for me is not a chore—it's something I like to do. [...] I do know that revising the work once it's done is something that comes naturally to me and is something I take pleasure in doing. Maybe I revise because it gradually takes me into the heart of what the story is about. I have to keep trying to see if I can find that out. It's a process more than a fixed position.
    • Short piece, 'On rewriting' - p.182, 183

On Longer Stories[edit]

  • How compelling is the voice in the story at hand? That's another test of mine. Like most readers, I turn away from a whine or from the overly self-involved. I don't waste time on smart alecks either. There has to be something at stake, something important working itself out from sentence to sentence.
    • Essay, 'On longer stories' - p.229

External links[edit]

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