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(09/19/2008) Cathedral by Raymond Carver. New York. 1983. Knopf. keywords: Literature America. 228 pages. Jacket art & design by Sara Eisenman. 0394528840. September 1983.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   It was with a collection of short stories called WILL YOU PLEASE BE QUIET, PLEASE? that a young, unknown writer from Clatskanie, Oregon, took the critics by surprise and first established his claim to national notice. Thereafter, on the evidence of a second collection, WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT LOVE, Cambridge University's Frank Kermode declared Raymond Carver a master of the short form. A new vision, a new method, a new tonality - these are the components of the program that has elevated Carver to international prominence. What is promptly recognizable in his work is the queer effect that issues from its surface simplicity. It is a plainness that gives off yeasty intimations of menace, as if weirdly unhygienic tales were being told, warnings of malignancies that might overtake you if you picked up the wrong utensil, uttered the wrong word. And yet Carver's world is really the world of the homely and the unexceptional, colorless people going about the business of their colorless lives. How Carver makes of their uninflected histories a primer on moral terror speaks to the magic of his force as a literary artist. But nowhere in his earlier fiction is the alchemy by which he transmutes the banal into the numinous so strange and so potent as it is in Cathedral. Indeed, the twelve stories in this book constitute a kind of grammar of that feathery language only the heart ever hears, and only at four o'clock in the morning. There is something morbidly forbidden in the places these stories go, in the sensations mere objects are made to deliver - packages of frozen food thawing on a kitchen table, a plaster cast of teeth set atop a television cabinet, the figuration of a spaceship on a birthday cake decorated for a child who must die. But none of the images will grip you as ferociously as will the one at the close of the title story - the hand of a blind man seen riding the hand of a sighted man. It is as if Carver has passed a wand over words on paper, and thus made of this story, and of those that precede it, a version of the thing itself, the charmed interior of that edifice, the cathedral - a spaciousness that is hushed, severe, transporting.

 

 

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