I’m cheating a bit this week for my Deal Me In story. For the Classics Club Spin, the lucky number decreed I should read Raymond Carver’s collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love from 1981, but when I went to request it from the library, I found that it was nearly two weeks overdue (*tsk tsk*, other patron!) and that there was another hold before mine – and they only have one copy in my local library system. As it seemed unlikely I would get the book in time to read it by the end of March, I grabbed another Carver collection from the same time period, 1983’s Cathedral, as a substitute. Then I realized the title story of that collection is on my Deal Me In stories list, designated by the King of Diamonds. So it just makes sense to review this story this week instead of randomly drawing a card, as I am reading it anyway. (I will have more thoughts on the collection in its entirety in a couple of days.)
I vaguely recall being impressed by the one or two Carver stories I read back in high school, – particularly the style – although I couldn’t tell you now which ones I read. But I’m certain I’ve never read this particular story before, as there are so many elements in it that I’m certain would have stuck with me. Having said that – and reiterating that I find Carver’s style impressive – I must admit that I didn’t much enjoy this story. It made me feel uncomfortable in a vague, difficult to define way.
The core of the story centers around a couple, presumably in the suburbs like most of Carver’s characters. There is drinking and ennui – again, like most Carver stories. The wife has just learned that a friend and former employer’s wife has died, and he will be staying with them for a day or two on his way to/from dealing with her family and the funeral duties. This friend is blind, which is central to the story.
The husband was largely unlikable for me. He was self-centered and petulant, quietly jealous and while not openly discriminatory towards the blind, certainly labeled them as “other.” He does not want the blind man to stay with them, and his reasons are about as mature and logical as if he said “because he’s got cooties.” I kept wanting to smack the husband, to be honest.
The visit occurs. Things are awkward. As the night wears on – and copious alcohol and some marijuana is consumed – the husband and the guest loosen up. The television is tuned to a documentary about cathedrals. The blind man wants his host to describe a cathedral to him, but the host’s ability to do so is limited. They end up, in a scene both unexpected and strange, drawing one together, with the blind man holding on to the hand of the husband as he moves about the paper. It is a powerful scene, but there is something discomforting about the way it is written.
I don’t know… I feel like I should like this more than I did, as it has a powerful theme of transformation with lots of interesting little subtexts sewn about. Opening up to intimacy is one such subtext, but part of me suspected that on the husband’s part, this invitation of intimacy was to somehow spite or one-up his wife. (Yet again another part of me felt he simply got swept up in an intense and unexpected moment.) But I disliked the husband so, and the atmosphere in the house of the protagonists was so uncomfortable that I just didn’t enjoy the overall effect. But I did, as with most Carver stories, genuinely appreciate the style and skill with which the author told his story. He’s a great wordsmith! But his stories make me feel vaguely depressed, tired, exasperated and kind of defeated. And I suppose that, at least with his suburban ennui stories, that is precisely one of the points Carver is trying to convey.