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Raymond Carver - Biography

Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

The short stories of Raymond Carver feature ongoing themes of loss and disillusionment, set against a backdrop of drinking. This should come as no surprise, since Carver's own life is profoundly reflected in his fiction, and he himself struggled with alcoholism. Carver lived on the American West Coast during the middle of the twentieth century, during an era when drinking was accepted as readily as the pursuit of the American dream. But this is not to say that Carver didn't see the dark side of alcoholism: he did. He simply seemed to feel that life was too hard to endure without it. Alcohol softens the edges as it buoys the spirit, and if it dulls one's grasp of reality at the same time, well, that's a small price to pay.
Or is it? Many of Carver's characters struggle to stay afloat financially, struggle to keep their marriages together, and struggle to avoid thinking too deeply about the meaning of life. In Carver's world, people seek to anesthetize themselves from the pain of life by dodging its real questions. It is impossible, for example, to determine whether someone loves you, or what has gone wrong in a relationship, or what really matters in life, when all the parties are drunk. Yet the reader, being sober and hopefully more detached, can see exactly what is going wrong in the situations Carver describes. Even more tellingly, the effects of alcohol wear off when the liquor is gone -- and in the absence of more liquor, reality has an annoying tendency to sneak up and reveal itself. Alcohol dulls the pain of self-knowledge, but it can't totally take it away. Sooner or later the characters have to confront their own demons, without a buffer in the way.

Let's look at the function of alcohol in the title story of Carver's collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, as well as in another story from that collection, "Gazebo." Here, we will find that drinking profoundly affects the way the protagonists in each story deal with love and the loss of it, as well as their perception of reality and their capacity for faith and hope.

Read Storybites' analysis of...

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

The Gazebo

Both these story can be found in the collection "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."

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