Free Ploughshares: Raymond Carver

It’s once again time for another free Ploughshares contest, and this week we’re featuring our Winter 1983 issue, guest edited by Raymond Carver and featuring work by Mona Simpson, Tim O’Brien, Jay McInerney, and Tobias Wolff.

For anyone unfamiliar with the contest, the rules are simple: comment in the space below about why you love Raymond Carver or any of the other contributors in the issue, and we’ll choose the winning comment by noon tomorrow. Our managing editor Andrea Martucci will send you the issue and you’ll have up to thirty days to write a review that we’ll later publish on the Ploughshares blog and website, in honor of our upcoming fortieth anniversary.

The full contest details can be found here. If you’re interested in continuing to hear about this weekly contest, make sure to fan us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our blog feed, or add us on Tumblr.


UPDATE: I’ve made my selection, and so this posting is now CLOSED. We’ll be doing this every week, so there will be plenty more chances for free issues. Stay tuned!




Might we be so bold as to suggest that you subscribe to Ploughshares?

About Rhian Sasseen

Rhian Sasseen is a rising senior and English Language & Literature major at Smith College in Northampton, MA. She is a summer editorial intern at Ploughshares.
This entry was posted in Ploughshares Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Free Ploughshares: Raymond Carver

  1. Raymond Carver showed me how shitty alcoholism can be and how bleak life in Twin Peaks can be when you have no money and hate your existence. He showed me the value of a short declarative sentence beautifully written, though David Foster Wallace later untaught me that. He, Fitzgerald, Wallace, and Cheever gave me hope that a seriously damaged individual could yet produce heart-stopping art. I came to him relatively late at 25 (that would be just this past year), and was stunned by the purity of his work and the tangible sense of irrevocable sorrow. Cheever taught me wit; Wallace and Carver taught me what it means to be alone.

  2. Big Raymond Carver fan. Read all of his work. I was turned on to his writing by a professor who read the story “Why Don’t You Dance?” aloud — and could hardly muster the strength to get through the story without crying. His love of the story moved me so much, I had to find everything I could written by Carver. Anyway — he finished the story — and called an end to class. And we all sorta stumbled are way out the door on an awkwardly quiet — but beautiful note. I bet every student in that class remembers that day.

  3. Melanie says:

    Carver taught me to not only love short fiction, but to dedicate my writing life to it. He taught me that it’s okay to examine and reexamine – inexhaustibly – the grayer sides of life. That human interaction is rich with complexity, and viewing the same thing from every angle breeds new insight, new conflict, new stories.

    I owe my adult love of reading-under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight to Carver.

  4. I love Raymond Carver stories for many reasons, but my favorite reason is the details he uses to describe his female characters. There is one scene in a story (I can’t remember the name of right now) where the main character’s wife is in bed next to him. She reaches out to feel the cold wall next to the bed as she’s trying to fall asleep. It is such a small detail, but I loved it so much because whenever I can’t sleep I stick my foot or leg out to touch the wall next to me. The coolness of the wall helps me sleep. It’s a detail I would never think to use in my own stories, but Carver was the best at capturing the truly private details of an individual.

  5. I’ve loved Raymond Carver’s work in different ways, for different reasons, for more than twenty years. I reread some of Fires recently — as that has bits of everything: essays, poems, stories, an interview — and I find something different speaks to me with each reading.

  6. T. G. Bradshaw says:

    Carver first inspired me to write with “Neighbors” and then again with everything else – unfolding the story hidden within the desperate banalities. We should all strive for sentences as good, his sense of timing and tone, and find a good editor.

  7. John Sullivan says:

    I love Raymond Carver simply because he made me want to be a writer. As a kid I was rather unathletic and bookish, therefore, while everyone else was playing sports, I hid in the library and read. One day I was passing the C section in fiction when I came across ‘Cathedral’. It was like something out of a movie; the book just appeared, apart from the rest, in its separate part of the shelf. It took the opening pages of ‘Where I’m Calling From’, and I was hooked. I wanted to be able to say so much by saying so little; I wanted to write about people I knew, not about people I wish I knew. Carver set the bar because he taught us literature isn’t for the elite, but for those that want to include everyone.

  8. Cat says:

    I love Raymond Carver because he doesn’t let you see his brushstrokes. He’s that writer where every time you finish one of his stories, you think, “I could write something like that!” — the same way you think you could paint a Rothko until you actually try. With Carver, you experience the story itself, not the writing of it.

    Oh, and I also love “Cathedral,” but I think my all-time favorite is “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” — the Lish-edited version I grew up with, not the version that was published as “Beginners.” :)

  9. Sarah says:

    I love Raymond Carver symbolically more than anything else because I credit his famous “Cathedral” as one of the stories that fostered my love of reading. As a teen, a close friend of mine went to a different high school with a much heavier emphasis on literature than my own. They were reading selections from “The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories” and I was really impressed because it had all these great authors in it. I loved to read but, because my friend has dyslexia, she didn’t. There was a lot of labor involved for her to finish stories so we decided I would read “Cathedral” out loud because it would be faster. I don’t think I would have gotten exposure to Carver otherwise and incidentally, did not read him again until college (when I also read Simpson’ “Lawns” which is equally great and in that anthology). I always think of that book and that story as, of course, a moment between friends, but also when I started to become a serious reader.

  10. Dan says:

    Drinking with Ray
    An Ode to Raymond Carver

    His head was huge. I mean it was the biggest thing I’d ever seen, wider than it was long. You could land a helicopter on his forehead. And those deep brooding eyes. He could burn a hole through you if he stared long enough.

    He was smoking. He was off the sauce but he still went to bars to smoke and drink ginger ale. He looked a little unstable like he would beat you to a pulp if you stared at him funny. Maybe it was those eyes. The eyes of a murderer or serial killer.

    He was wearing a professor’s outfit. Corduroys, houndstooth blazer, argyle sweater, white shirt, penny loafers. It was a front. All his life trying to be something he wasn’t. Pride and vanity were his sins. Oh Ray. No one called him Raymond except the judge and the tax collector. Even his children called him Ray. His name sounded like a rebuke. Ray, what have you done? Ray, where are the kids? Ray, what happened to the money? Women loved him, then hated themselves for loving him. He was a sly one, that Ray, with his hound dog eyes.

    But he could write one hell of a story. No one could dispute that, not the repo men, not the cops, not his first wife. Oh Ray. Ray. Oh Ray. What did you do now?

  11. Gillian says:

    What I’ve taken away from reading Carver is an appreciation for small moments – or to borrow one of his own titles, the “small, good things” – that go unnoticed by those who are not directly involved in them. I love how Carver is able to draw a kind of universality from these deeply personal encounters where there are no clear heroes or villains, only flawed human beings who have no other choice but to make it through.

    A professor put me off Carver (and most of the other writers he presented in class) for a few years, but after revisiting him on my own time, I found a sort of kindred spirit that wasn’t being conveyed upon that first introduction. For all the worrying I’ve done about whether my own stories mean enough or do enough, it was reassuring to meet another writer who found merit and beauty in smallness and ambiguity.

  12. Daniel says:

    I found Carver through Murakami, who read him voraciously and translated his complete works into Japanese. Murakami was devastated when Carver died from cancer. I wish Murakami would stick to some of his more Carver-ian roots – his more recent novels and his upcoming 1Q84 feel a little bloated compared to some of his stuff in the 80′s. Carver isn’t the only contributor Murakami has translated – he also translated Tim O’Brien.

    When I think about Carver, I can’t help thinking about this piece in the Onion, which I love because I love Carver’s stories:,12208/

  13. The first Raymond Carver story I read was, A Small Good Thing. I was still quite young, in my 20s, so the story caught me on many levels. But what I remember most clearly, what is truly branded into the deepest cells of my memory, is the final scene… the closing… where the couple sat with the baker and “ate rolls and drank coffee”… it was a ritual, this scene, this literal breaking of bread… a ritual of forgiveness, a ritual of grief for all things lost by all 3 of the people at that table… a ritual that bound them on the viceral level of humanity, of being human. I was astounded, and, as a fledgling writer, I was humbled past all imagining. Once, I even wrote out the story, long hand, in pencil, on a legal pad — I suppose I was somehow hoping to capture a bit of his magic through the power of just copying those words. Of course, it didn’t work. Although I still write, my “day job” is Grief Counsellor for a Hospice — I can’t tell you how many times I have called to mind this story, given it to my patients to read, read parts of it to them aloud — it is wondrous to watch their responses, to hear them catch their breath at certain phrases, to see them cover their faces with their hands to hear them wail into their palms — and this story, this incredble, simple, amazing story, becomes its own Small Good Thing — there in my office, with people in pain, trying to find a way to just continue to breathe, Carver’s words become soft lights on a black pitted road — How I hope he sees, from whatever his current view, what a difference “just the right words” — His words — have made.

  14. Chris says:

    In one of his essays, Carver defines a short story using a quote by V.S. Pritchett: “Little moments glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.” When talking about Carver’s stories – and Tobias Wolff’s, for that matter – I’d go one step further and add the word “haunting” at the beginning of that definition. Whether it’s the mold of the narrator’s teeth on the mantel in “Feathers” or the beaver slapping the water in Wolff’s “Poachers,” these writer’s stories have staying power because although we only get those glimpses, what we catch with the corner of our eye leaves us with this feeling low in our chest that it, whatever it was, caught us head on.

  15. Chris says:

    the narrator’s wife’s teeth*

  16. Will says:

    I think what makes Carver’s short stories (and, as I’ve recently discovered, his poetry) so moving is the strange simplicity of his style coupled with his unpretentious vision of human psychology. He strips things down to essentials. Although Carver may appear to be writing about a depressed schoolteacher or an emotionally distant father, he is really writing about states of inwardness—hopes and dreams for connecting with other people and living a more fulfilling life—that we can all relate to. Minimalism is the wrong term. So is “dirty realism.” I see a kind of a purity in Carver’s world, despite its violence—a spiritual and emotional purity. It’s the same presence I feel in any good art, that of truth.

  17. Diane Henderson says:

    Raymond Carver impressed me as an author whose prose was simple, yet elegant from the first encounter, which for me was when I returned to college seeking a Bachelor’s in English writing in 2008. A nontraditional student, long past the typical college re-entry age, I was inspired by a voice that clearly had lived through much emotional turmoil and spoke in tones that resonated within my soul.

    I return to Carver’s “Cathedral” often because the story reminds me of how prescious sight is. Whether we are looking outward to find our place in the world, or inward to discover nuances of our character, connections with other people help us to define ourselves; sometimes in the least expected manner.

  18. Robert E. Aldrich Jr. says:

    While attending Ohio State, I chose to write a paper on Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral”, with its theme of blindness. I received an A. Thank you Mr. Carver.

  19. Robert E. Aldrich Jr. says:

    I don’t understand how my posting time got messed up. My computer now shows: 12:11 p.m.

  20. Robert E. Aldrich Jr. says:

    Thank you!

  21. Robert E. Aldrich Jr. says:

    What a wonderful issue. I have enjoyed reading all the comments.