Candles burning

In Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, there is minimal dialogue, spartan descriptions of scenes and milieu, and an itch for a proper--if not conventional--ending: a closure, a conclusion that's just but a sentence away. Maybe it's the reason why it's best to accompany the book with one of my favorites, Law of Averages by Frederick Barthelme, since both authors end their stories in the same way: each of their stories thrive in their anticlimactic design, celebrating and indulging in the lack of a whole, unified conclusion.

However, there are stories in WWTAWWTAL that feels like it could have been boiled down to a page or less, simply because that's all there is to it. Some stories feel drab and unfurnished, and it makes you feel dirty and cheated.


One of the stories from the collection, "The Bath," has a striking similarity with "A Small Good Thing," one of my favorites from Cathedral, his collection written two years after WWTAWWTAL. It's the story of a couple reeling from the pain when their birthday boy was hospitalized after being hit by a car. This is punctuated by the calls both husband and wife receive from an anonymous caller, who happens to be the baker the wife hired to bake a $16 birthday cake "decorated with a spaceship and launching pad under a sprinkling of white stars, and a planet made of red frosting at the other end."

After a quick search online, "The Bath," unsurprisingly, is an early version of "A Small Good Thing." To read and compare the story against each other is worthy of a ten-page position paper, but it's an good opportunity to read these two versions and snoop into the changes, get a sneak peek on the workings of Carver's mind, and note the striking differences, the things crossed out and retained: the degree of maturity of the latter, the mechanical, action-oriented trappings of the former, etc, etc. In the end, Cathedral wins my heart: almost all the stories are on the verge of something, complete with subtle bursts of epiphanies, and it makes WWTAWWTAL feel like a malformed twin.