Carver’s ‘Cathedral’: Once More with Context

Cathedral by Raymond Carver(NOTE: I originally posted this as a review of Carver’s book on Goodreads. I’ve since edited it to have it make more sense outside of Goodreads.)

I just read Raymond Carver’s short story collection Cathedral. I’m still processing it; I think I liked it 4 stars’ worth. And if I didn’t already own it, I’d buy it.

The last story (the title story) is subdued yet profound, which is a thread that runs through the entire book. I can see why Carver is considered a realist: he writes very simple, realistic stories about human moments and interactions. These stories do not have complex plots or dramas. But with their seemingly shallow characters—portrayed in just the right way—the stories end up creating an experience that’s deeper and richer than the reader had imagined at the start. Simply put, the stories tug at the reader differently than I’m used to. If I were to draw a Freytag’s pyramid for any one of them, I’m not sure it would look like much of a pyramid. Carver’s stories are so subtle that when the reader gets to the end, the climax is just a blip and the reader wants more.

But rarely is it necessary for the reader to actually have more at this point, because the story is all there on the page. He or she need only flip to the beginning and read it once more with context. That’s the point at which Carver stops writing; that’s when the story is done.

The Practical Reason for My Reading Raymond Carver’s Cathedral (read if you’re interested in the MFA process):

Cathedral came to me as a gift from a good friend of mine, and I’ve never had the chance to read it until now. I’ve been too busy with other things. But now those other things include assignments like read a collection of short stories and give a presentation on it. I’ll explain.

For my Thesis I class in the final year of my MFA program, I had to choose a collection of short fiction to read. I ultimately chose this one since I already had it and knew Raymond Carver was considered a master of the art of short fiction. Now that I’ve read the book, I have to think about how the stories fit together, whether they have the appropriate titles, whether the book title is representative of the book as a whole, and so on—and since my MFA is in both creative writing and publishing arts, I also have to consider aspects of this edition’s design (typography, cover art, layout, etc.). I’ll present my thoughts to the class at the end of November. And in mimicry of the experience of reading a Carver story, I’ve found that I am more excited now (than I was at the start of reading the book) to give my presentation. Yes, I think that’s it; I’ve decided. I liked the book 4 stars’ worth, at least.

Then I’ll go into the final stretch of advanced workshop. In other words, the week after my presentation, I’ll listen to my wise classmates and instructor as they verbalize my fourth and final story workshop and edit of the semester, and for the following week, I’ll bring in a completed revision on one of the two new stories I will have workshopped this semester. The other two will have been written previously—and so, already revised at least once by then.

And then I’ll move on to phase two of my thesis, which is putting together a manuscript of my best work, to be peer and instructor edited multiple times, revised multiple times, set in InDesign with multiple design options, and finally created as an actual book. I can’t wait to get that book in my hands.

Then I have to read in public and sell copies of the book.

If you’ve stumbled on this review and want to know more about the program I’m in (the only MFA program of its kind that I’m aware of), go here:

If you’ve stumbled on this review and happen to have read my post about whether to put periods in MFA, and are thus wondering why I’ve (begrudgingly) switched to no periods, here’s the short answer: Chicago says so here and here. Since I now pay a yearly subscription for access to Chicago online, partly for work but partly just for me, I’m damn well going to heed its advice.

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