Raymond Carver is one of the best known short story writers ever. I think “Cathedral” is one of the most frequently anthologized stories, if my books are any indication.
His writing is often classed as minimalism and dirty realism. Many of his stories have a spare style, and deal with the lives of ordinary people. My favorite Carver volume is Collected Stories. This has all his short stories, including early versions of some for comparison.
The stories are divided in the following collections:
- Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
- Furious Seasons
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
- Where I’m Calling From
- Call If You Need Me
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976)
A waitress serves the fattest person she has ever seen. He orders a lot of food and points out that he doesn’t always eat like this. Her coworkers make fun of the man.
This is the first story in the preview of Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
A family is gathered around a baby in a basket, doting over him and admiring his little features. They try to figure out who the baby looks like. (Summary and Analysis of “The Father”)
A woman is sitting in her kitchen in the dark looking out the window. The house she’s watching has the bedroom shade up and the light on. She’s been watching a man in this house for some time. He comes out on his back porch. The woman excitedly calls her husband to come look.
This is the third story in the preview of Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
Bill and Arlene Miller look after their neighbor’s cat and plants while they’re away. The Miller’s think their neighbor’s lives are more interesting than their own. When Bill goes over to feed the cat and water the plants, he ends up staying in their apartment longer than necessary.
This is the second story in the preview of Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
“Nobody Said Anything”
A married couple argue one morning before work. One of their sons, Roger, fakes being sick so he can stay home by himself. He ends up being bored. He looks through his parents room, trying to get some insight into romantic matters. He decides to set out for Birch Creek to do some fishing.
This story can be read in the preview of Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories.
A man is in a bar having a beer. His marriage has recently ended and he’s unemployed. Two women start talking to him. They want to use his car to visit their night school teacher, Patterson.
A woman responds to a letter she received about her son. He doesn’t live at home anymore and she’s afraid of him. She reads about him in the paper sometimes. She relates some of the troubling incidents from their past, starting with the disappearance of their cat.
A man splitting firewood out back sees lots of ducks flying off the lake. He goes in for supper. He and his wife talk about their upcoming trip to Reno. He’s planning on going out hunting in the morning. His wife wants him around more.
Wayne and Caroline go to Aldo’s, an elegant new restaurant. They talk about the maître d’, who’s rumored to have an uncle at the Vatican and to have known some famous people. They try to enjoy themselves, but they get sidetracked with petty bickering.
“What Is It?” (or “Are These Actual Miles?”)
Leo is in debt and his creditors are closing in. He needs cash. He sends out his wife, Toni, to sell his convertible. Toni takes her time dressing up. Leo is worried the lots will close. They go over the details of what needs to be done.
“Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?”
Ralph and Marian, both studying to be teachers, get married right after graduation. They get teaching jobs and have two children. They are happy except for one incident that Ralph thinks of more often lately—he believes Marian was unfaithful to him two years ago.
Furious Seasons and Other Stories (1977)
Mr. Harold leaves a cafe and continues his drive to Castlerock cabins. He and his wife, Frances, used to go there a few times a year. She didn’t come this time. He’s looking forward to some fishing. There are some changes, but the owner, Mrs. Maye, remembers him.
Iris is brushing her hair after a bath. Farrell is flipping through a magazine. Iris tells him she’s pregnant. He asks what she’s going to do, and goes into the bathroom to shave. The narrator relates incidents involving his wife, sister and friend Frank.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981)
“Why Don’t You Dance?”
A man puts all his bedroom furniture on his front yard. He also puts out his television, record player and other items. A little later, a young couple who’re driving by stop to see if they can get a deal on something.
This story can be read in the preview of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
“Everything Stuck to Him”
A woman visiting Milan for Christmas wants to hear a story from when she was a kid. She’s told about a young couple who lived under a dentist’s office. They were in love and ambitious. Their baby was three months old. The young man plans a hunting trip with an old friend of his father’s. (Summary & Analysis)
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”
Two married couples sit in the McGinnis’s apartment, drinking and talking about real love. They use their own, and second-hand experiences, to try to define it. (Analysis & Themes)
“I Could See the Smallest Things”
A woman hears a sound at her gate. She tries to wake her husband but he’s solidly out. She can’t ignore it. She goes out to check it. Her neighbor, Sam Lawton, is out leaning on his fence. He and her husband had a falling out.
“Popular Mechanics” (or “Little Things” or “Mine”)
A man and woman, possibly married, have an argument as he’s packing to leave home. The subject of their baby comes up, causing a quick escalation of the conflict.
“So Much Water So Close To Home”
Claire’s husband doesn’t want to answer the phone and doesn’t want to be judged by anyone. His name and the names of three friends are on the front page of the paper. While they were on a fishing trip, they found a dead woman. They reported the incident to the police, but not until they came back two days later.
A man with hook-hands comes to the narrator’s door trying to sell him a picture of his house. He invites the man in. He’s interested in seeing how he will hold a cup. The narrator looks closely at the picture and sees his head in the kitchen window.
A man is getting a haircut. The barber asks one of his regulars, Charles, if he got his deer. Charles says he did and he didn’t. He tells the story of him, his grandfather and his son out hunting.
Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories (1983)
A wife proclaims her innocence to her husband. A mutual friend has said something about her. She reviles the woman and asks her husband to believe her. He’s not sure what to make of the situation.
Read “The Lie” (PDF Pg. 3)
Gerald and Shirley are on the long night drive to her summer house. She’s given up on him. They’ve come from Hollywood where Gerald’s a minor actor and Shirley has money and connections. Out of the corner of his eye, Gerald sees a pheasant flying low and fast toward the car.
The narrator’s coworker, Bud, invites him and his wife, Fran, over for supper. They’ve never met each others wives. Bud and his wife, Ola, have an eight-month-old baby. They live twenty miles outside the city. When Jack and Fran pull up to the house, they hear a terrible sound, the first of a few surprises in store for them.
Some of this story can be read in the preview of Cathedral: Stories.
The narrator relates the time when her estranged husband, Wes, rented a house and tried to quit drinking. She goes to live with him there and they have a relaxing time. Wes stays sober. One day the owner visits with some news.
“A Small, Good Thing”
A mother and father are preparing for their son’s eighth birthday. The son gets hit by a car on his way to school one morning, but seems all right and makes his way home. Shortly after, he loses consciousness.
“Where I’m Calling From”
The narrator goes to a rehab facility. He was sent there by his girlfriend, also a drinker. While he’s there over the Christmas season, he thinks about what led him to this point and he describes the relationships he forms there.
A woman and a blind man have kept in contact for ten years, mailing tapes to each other. The man’s wife has recently died, so he’s going to visit her family. On the way, he’s going to spend a night at the woman’s place with her new husband. Her husband isn’t looking forward to the visit.
Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories (1988)
“Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes”
Evan stopped smoking two days ago. He’s thinking about them all the time. He goes outside to call his son, Roger, for supper. An unfamiliar boy in the driveway tells him Roger is at his place with his mom. There’s been some kind of incident with a bike. He heads over to the house.
This is the second story in the preview of Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories.
A man relates his remembrances of an evening at home with his wife. He was in his study when an envelope was slipped under his door. It’s a letter from his wife but the man doesn’t believe it was written by her. He says it wasn’t her handwriting and the tone was out of character for her. The letter says their relationship has come to an end. He hesitates before going to look for her.
Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose (2001)
A man is distracted with the feeling that something is stuck in his teeth, probably a hair, even though he can’t see it. It continues to bother him at work. He doesn’t feel well.
A man and woman sit at a patio table drinking wine. They talk about something that’s going to happen in three hours. It seems they’re going to be parting this afternoon. They’ve been married for a year.
It is summer and Myers has just finished a month of sobering up. He takes a bus to a town near the ocean and rents a room from Sol and Bonnie. Myers doesn’t say much about himself. His landlords speculate a bit about him.
This story can be read in the preview of Call If You Need Me.
I will continue to add Raymond Carver stories to this page.