Analysis of “Everything Stuck to Him” by Raymond Carver: Summary & Themes of Short Story (“Distance”)

“Everything Stuck to Him” by Raymond Carver is a frame story where a man tells his grown daughter about something that happened when she was a baby.

Summary of “Everything Stuck to Him”

A woman is in Milan for Christmas with her father. She wants to know what it was like when she was a kid. He thinks of a story from when she was a baby, but it only involves her in a minor way. She wants to hear it. They get another drink and he begins.

He was eighteen and his wife was seventeen, and they were very much in love. They had a daughter soon after. They lived in a small apartment under a dentist’s office, which they cleaned at night to cover their rent and utilities. They also took care of the grounds.

The couple has ambitions to do things and go places. When the baby is about three months old, the young man calls an old hunting friend of his father’s, Carl. The geese hunting is great; Carl’s going out again in the morning. The young man decides to go with him. His wife says it’s fine and that they will take the baby to visit her sister Sally when he gets back. His wife knows he’s attracted to Sally and her other sister Betsy, as well.

After dinner, they bathe and powder the baby. They sleep in their room and the baby sleeps in the living room. Outside, it’s overcast and cold with snow on the ground. They go to bed.

He wakes up later to the baby crying. His wife rocks the baby, puts her back and returns to bed. He wakes again to crying. His wife holds the baby but she won’t stop crying. The man takes over and she lies down. He sits on the sofa with the baby until she falls asleep, then he puts her in the crib.

A few minutes later she’s crying again. The man swears. The mother picks her up, puts her back down, and picks her up again, rocking her. They don’t know what’s wrong. The man gets dressed for hunting. The woman doesn’t want him to go now, with the baby sick. They argue about it, and she cries.

The man continues prepping for his outing. His wife says he has to choose between Carl and his family. The man leaves with his gear and starts his car. He turns it off and sits for a while before going back inside.

His wife and baby are asleep on the bed. The man takes off his hunting clothes and sits on the couch with the paper. He goes to the kitchen and fries bacon. His wife comes out and puts her arms around him. They apologize to each other. She takes over the cooking and makes him waffles. She serves him the food. When he cuts into it, he flips the plate onto his lap. The food sticks to his long underwear. He’s a bit upset and she’s amused. He throws his underwear at the bathroom door. They embrace and say they won’t fight anymore.

Back in the present, they have another drink and the story is over. The father says things change without you realizing or wanting them to. His daughter agrees, then starts to add something but stops. She asks if he’s going to show her the city. He tells her to get ready. He’s still thinking of the past, how he and his wife laughed and leaned on each other while everything else was outside.

Theme: Change

This theme is established in the opening frame story when the adult daughter asks for a story about how things were when she was young. Without knowing anything about the characters at this point, we can still assume that things were very different back then.

The man was married and in love during the time of the inner story. This is a big change, as he now lives alone in Milan. The couple is no longer together.

We aren’t given any details on what happened, but the man acknowledges it when he says, “Things change. I don’t know how they do. But they do without your realizing it or wanting them to.” He had just ended his story with him and his wife saying they wouldn’t fight anymore. After the learning experience they just had as a young couple, they could have kept true to this for a while, but it couldn’t last. This could be one of the changes he’s thinking of that damaged the relationship.

The inner story starts with a significant recent change for the young couple—they’ve just had a baby. The main conflict of the story occurs because the parents are still adapting to the change in their roles. This could also be considered under the themes of identity or adjusting to a new role.

The young man uses questionable judgment when he still plans to go hunting after his daughter seems unwell. He hasn’t fully assimilated his roles of father and husband yet. The young woman seems comfortable in her role as a mother but she has a rougher adjustment to being a wife. We’re told this was the couple’s first argument. Her reaction was to threaten her husband with a relationship-ending ultimatum over their disagreement.

Another example of change occurs after the action of the flashback story. We’re told the young couple was “crazy in love”, obviously a state that can’t last. After future disagreements, they probably wouldn’t make up as easily as their elation fades.

This is an example of things that change “without your realizing it or wanting them to”, as the narrator explains after his story. We can object to this statement, as his daughter seemed about to (see question, below), but in some cases it’s true. People would probably choose to stay “crazy in love” if they could, but that’s not an option. That kind of change is inevitable.

1. What does the title mean?

First, let’s consider the obvious incident from the story where everything stuck to the young man. He accidentally flips his breakfast plate onto his lap, covering himself with syrup, waffles and bacon and it all sticks to him. He has to take off his long underwear to get rid of it. But why is this incident significant enough to name the story after it?

A possible interpretation is that his experiences “stuck” to him in the same way. Everything he’s been through over the years are a part of him still, making up who he is now.

The food sticking to him was an unpleasant thing, so I think a more likely meaning is that his interactions with his ex-wife and responsibilities as a father, “stuck” to him, and he didn’t like it. He got rid of them, like he had to remove his long underwear. This might not have been done maliciously or even intentionally, as the man says, “Things change without your realizing it or wanting them to.”

2. What was the daughter going to say when she stopped herself?

Right after her father makes the above statement (in bold), his grown daughter responds with, “Yes, that’s true, only—”, and then she stops.

She agreed, but it seems like she was about to object. She could have been about to point out that if you pay more attention and work to make things better, they don’t have to change as much. The man’s statement sounds a bit like an excuse, so this seems like an obvious counter-point. She might have stopped because she knows her father, and knows this will only lead to a pointless argument.

3. Is the father correct when he says, “I admit it’s not much of a story”?

This is true only based on the plot. It’s not a thriller, it’s not action-packed, and doesn’t have a twist ending. But it doesn’t take any of these things to make a good story.

It’s only not much of a story if there’s not much to human interactions, the changes in life, and the choices we make. The story tells us something about what it means to be a person, and in that sense, it’s a very good one.