In the heat of Tulsa in late July, the readers over at AltTulsa like to hide out in an air-conditioned space with a good book.
Our most recent volume was a old paperback collection of Raymond Carver stories with a great title, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Carver, an Oregon native who died some years ago, was also a poet and his stories are as spare and tightly constructed as haiku, suggesting much more than they say.
We should say, too, that Carver's stories are often bleak examinations of American life in the last decades of the twentieth century. A lot of his characters are unhappy or desperate, clinging to some idea or thing in hope of redemption from the emptiness of modern life.
Yet the characters and their lives offer their own kind of redemption, which makes Carver's stories worth re-reading. For instance, we were taken by the story of Holly and Duane, the couple who operates a motel in "Gazebo." Theirs is a relationship teetering on the brink, fueled by too much booze and Duane's sexual interest in Juanita, one of the maids at the motel.
One of Carver's successes in such stories is his ability to develop vivid characters and intense scenes in a short space, and to make us care about these people. More often than not, Carver leaves the reader on the edge, wondering where these lives are headed.
As you can tell, there aren't many happy endings in Carver stories. But the lessons here are worthwhile and sometimes haunting.
Another Carver collection with an intriguing title: Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?