Raymond Carver, "Kindling" (1999) from Raymond Carver:
I've never been a huge fan of Carver, and this story shoulders the double-burden of being a story discovered and published posthumously. Whenever I hear of posthumous stories I always wonder whether this was something the author wanted buried with him. But judging from the story, my necro-telepathy says that Carver would be fine with "Kindling" being published.
"Kindling" reminds me a lot of other Carver stories: if he wanted to, he could've had a nice sideline in Chandler-esque crime. There's that same Chandler terseness to the sentences (okay, that's only about half of Chandler's stuff) and the same Chandler attention to externalities. Did I say Chandler? I should've said Defoe. As Virginia Woolf pointed out, when a Defoe character is agitated, he more often clenches his hands than discusses how he's feeling. Carver's characters exist on the same level of externality: we see them talk, write, walk--sometimes step-by-step--but we don't get directly told how they feel.
Which is funny considering the story here is plot-light and feeling heavy. Myers has just gotten out of rehab, his wife has left him, and he doesn't know what to do with his life. (How is this not a serious Will Ferrell movie yet?) He moves to a different town, starts boarding with two of Carver's American grotesques (withered arm man, fat woman), and eventually gets out of his funk by cutting up a load of firewood and watching a river rush down. What healed him? Is he really better? What's up next for Sol and his wife Bonnie? As usual, Carver gives no answers.
But strangely, even with the easy to parody Carver style of describing people moving step-by-step, I found "Kindling" to be haunting because of some of the openness to it. For instance, check out this first line:
It was the middle of August and Myers was between lives.If that doesn't make you want to dive in to the certainty of time (middle of August) and the vagueness of human life (between lives), then I don't know what will.