WHERE I'M CALLING FROM
Carver's shrewd new publisher here repackages 30 stories--a few with new titles--from his four collections, and includes seven uncollected pieces, one of which has never seen print. This selection spans 25 years and provides the perfect opportunity to assess an acclaimed career. For the most part, Carver's seven new pieces add little to his inflated reputation. The trite imagery, the deliberately stale language, and the unintentional bathos--all the elements of Carver's common-man pose--continue to generate tales of failure and false promise, a neo-proletarian rhetoric of victimization and survival. His male narrators often wallow in self-pity, and their problems usually concern women. In "Boxes," a divorced man's mother--herself a lonely widow--moves nearby, making his life miserable with her constant complaining, though her packing up to move again only makes him feel worse. Another story with a single dominant, hard image--"Menudo"--is about "a middle-aged man involved with his neighbor's wife," a state of affairs that forces him to realize his failures with women: his mother, his ex-wife, his present wife. "Intimacy" elaborates on this theme for, here, the narrator shows up unannounced at his ex-wife's house where the shrew harangues him about the past--a past he's already exploited in his "work." More Roth-like reflections on success underpin "Elephant," in which the narrator complains about all those who rely on him for money--his "greedy" mother, his hapless brother, his former wife, his son in college, his white-trashy daughter with children. While this tiresome tale ends with a sloppily sentimental affirmation, "Whoever Was Using This Bed" finds no such hope for the husband and wife who obsess about "death and annihilation," and their bad health and habits. The only surprise in this volume is the final story--a fictional re-creation of Chekhov's death, based largely on memoirs, that's quite unlike any of Carver's previous work, and may signal a new stage in his development, away from the clichÃ‰s of contemporary rootlessness. Regardless of Carver's actual achievement, his spare and simple style has set the tone for a generation of story writers, so that this. ample volume serves as the best introduction to what's happening in contemporary short fiction.