Next week’s story is The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín

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Rated Explicit

We read our first Carver story this week and it prompted a great discussion. Maya has been reading through Carver’s body of work and found the reading experience very different compared to Anais. Gerald was turned off by the narrator, and we delved a bit into how we feel when we confront a main character we don’t like.

Don’t forget, to rate the story! For the history of our goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” If you want to design a Bradberry, we’d love to see it.

Listeners gave last week’s story “Safe, Somewhere” by Baird Harper 3.75 Bradberries.

So tell us, on a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate “Safe, Somewhere”? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give the final tally on the next episode.

Next week’s story is The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín

4 comments on Cathedral – Raymond Carver – Literary Roadhouse Ep 25

  1. Todd Williams says:

    This was a decent story but I couldn’t get into the style. I thought the dialogue rang false and especially the wife’s habit of repeating herself really got on my nerves. I loved the way it ended and I agree with Anais that the husband becomes much more likable as the story progresses (and the wife less so for me). In fact the whole dynamic seems to reverse on itself to where by the end the husband and Robert are closer and the wife seems put out by it; I found it funny when the wife wakes: up it is almost as if she caught them cheating on her.

    I don’t think the husband is jealous of Robert as much as he resents the invasion of privacy that Robert and his wife’s relationship represents. It’s bad enough when a woman has a best female friend who knows all, but another man is worse. It’s natural to be a little insecure in this position I think.

    Overall it is a ‘nice’ story and has a good moral. I felt happy at the end which is always a nice feeling.

    As for the question about body of work, I couldn’t help but wonder if Maya was rating this story in relation to the author’s other work as opposed to its merits as a short story in general; while this is perfectly natural I think it would need to be taken into account if you were to focus on one author for a period of time.

    I don’t read too many collections by a single author (I’m an anthology junkie) but would recommend Margaret Atwood (Dancing Girls and Other Stories), Guy de Maupassant, Peter Straub and Thomas Ligotti. Alice Munro would be top of the list, but I know you’ve read one of hers already on the podcast.

    This week’s story gets 4 Bradberries from me.

  2. Richard says:

    Top of my list is William Faulkner, but I’m not sure even a month would do him justice. You could spend a month just on "The Bear."

    Another dysfunctional suggestion is Donald Barthelme (I can just imagine Gerald’s take on those stories!). And I don’t know if you want to revisit Borges or not, but think what you could do with these 4 stories:
    Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
    The Lottery in Babylon
    The Garden of Forking Paths
    Emma Zunz

    I have no idea whether any of these are available online, though.

  3. Richard says:

    I loved the podcast. Carver is a hell of a story teller, and you folks are really fun to listen to.

    I give this story the highest number of Bradberries, what ever that may be (sorry, I didn’t stop to look it up.) Gerald, I thought the short choppy sentences were carefully crafted to bring the narrator to life, and it was brilliantly effective. He narrated just the way he spoke. This is not a man who lives in the abstract. I could recognize this man in a crowd within two minutes.

    Which leads me to another comment. As all of you acknowledged, Carver is the master of the modern short story. This one is different from his earlier collections, as it is less heavily edited, but it retains his genius for showing, not telling, suggesting rather than directing. I loved the little things: the beard stroking, the strawberry pie, the wife’s robe coming open, the color TV that they just traded up to. I was locked in to the time and place of the setting and tenor of the characters–I know these people (which is not to say I understand them. I just mean I have lived among people like this).

    There is one point that I’m a little surprised you didn’t note. It’s a delicate one to discuss, but like all of Carver’s stories, this piece doesn’t shy away from our less attractive features. In this case the narrator (I’ll call him Bub) is seriously uncomfortable with Robert not just because of his past relationship with his wife. He is uneasy being around a blind person. Note that he keeps calling him "the blind man" up through the end of the story. I can relate to that feeling, and it’s not something I am proud of, believe me. But like I said, Carver stares mercilessly into the human psyche, and doesn’t flinch at drunks, negligent parents, etc. In this story, it’s a really fine line that he (Carver) walks, because the discomfort has to be felt by a man who is mostly decent. Average, maybe, but still he hosts his wife’s long time friend without being too much of a jerk. But we still see how awkward he feels, in his discussion of the train, his thoughts about the cigarettes, how he marvels at Robert’s skill with the knife and fork. Think about it: if you have spend time around a blind person, what was your reaction? Mine has been all over the place, from sympathy to not wanting to get involved. Mixed in is fear–Oh god, what if that were me, how could I live without sight? I can hear all that in Bub’s thoughts and conversation. And I can recognize it because it’s in me, too. It’s not pretty, but it’s there. That is the true genius of Carver. Like Bub says, "It’s really something."

    Switching gears, I like the idea of spending a month on a single author. I do think there is value in getting to know a writer well. I think it helps sharpen what we, as readers, bring to the story. If you don’t get Faulkner’s core ideas about the oppression of history, or Junot Diaz’s view of family as tragedy, you may read their stories much differently when you mentally fill in the gaps they leave. On the other hand, there is something to be said for exploring fresh terrain each week. Either way, I’ll be listening. Like Robert said, "I’m always learning something. Learning never ends. It won’t hurt me to learn something tonight."

    1. I know what you mean about how they are locked into a time and place. I was struck by how the narrator had to get up to change the channel on the TV. Get up! They’re a blink away from the cavemen, I say. 😉

      And yea, I wanted to get more into how Robert’s blindness is the imposition — not Robert’s visit, but his impairment. It’s probably why the element of jealousy wasn’t as strong for me. The repetition of "blind man" was so intentional and blunt (in an otherwise subtle story) that it worked, I hyper focused on that. I actually expected Bub to reference Robert as "man" without the blind modifier post epiphany, but I guess Carver isn’t as cheesy as me. Haha.

      If we were to stay with one author for a month, who’d top your list?

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