Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver (1976) 181 p.

Working my way through the canon. Raymond Carver is one of the most pre-eminent writers of the past century, ranking alongside Hemingway, Chekhov and Cheever as a master of the short story. (And also as one of the key figures giving rise to the romanticism of the alcoholic author, along with Hemingway and Kingsley Amis.) Will You Please Be Quiet, Please is his first collection of short fiction, published in 1976.

Carver, again like Hemingway, is famous for having a fairly bare style. I’m not a fan of this. I’m OK with it when Hemingway uses it to describe lion hunting in Africa and skiing in Switzerland, but not so much when Carver uses it to describe unhappy middle-class couples in mid-century America having evasive conversations. I like short stories to have either a vivid, baroque writing style, or an interesting plot, or ideally both. Carver sadly checks neither box. Will You Please Be Quiet, Please has a few stories in it that piqued my interest – specifically “Jerry, Molly and Sam,” about a father driving his kids’ dog out into the middle of nowhere and abandoning it, and “Are These Actual Miles?”, about a man in financial trouble who suspects his wife of infidelity – but for the most part I found them formulaic and somewhat empty; brimming with dull moments of epiphany. I half-suspect whoever wrote the Wikipedia page for this collection is taking the piss; consider this synopsis for the story “How About This:”

A couple comes to look at the woman’s father’s deserted place in the country. Maybe they will move there.

It’s all well and good to cite the Iceberg Theory and have a story where much remains unsaid and you have to read between the lines, but I don’t have much inclination to do so in stories about struggling relationships (and more than half the stories in here are about struggling relationships) with bitter comments made in restaurants and living rooms. I don’t really feel like googling an analysis of a story after I’ve read it. This collection often feels like it comprises of stories made to be dissected in a classroom discussion, rather than to be read, appreciated and enjoyed.

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