John Gardner (1933-1982), an American novelist and poet, was one of Carver’s first writing teachers. Gardner is perhaps best known for his novel Grendel (1971), which is a retelling of the traditional Beowulf story from the perspective of the monster. His novel October Light (1976) won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Gardner was also a critic, and wrote two books aimed at aspiring writers: On Becoming a Novelist (1983) and The Art of Fiction (1984), both published after his death.
John Cheever (1912-1982) was a close friend of Carver, as well as his colleague and fellow fiction writer. In contrast to Carver, whose stories centered on the working poor, Cheever, a novelist and short story writer, was known for his middle-class suburban settings and characters. Among his best known works are The Enormous Radio and Other Stories (1953), The Wapshot Chronicle (1957), his first novel, which won a National Book Award, and The Stories of John Cheever (1978), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Because of his clear prose style and ability to capture the social milieu of suburban America, critics have dubbed him “the Chekhov of the suburbs.”
Robert Altman and Shortcuts
Screenwriter and film director Robert Altman (born 1925) adapted a collection of Carver’s short stories to the screen in the 1993 feature film Short Cuts. Altman first won national attention for his film M*A*S*H (1970), which takes place at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, but is a commentary on the Vietnam War. Altman became known for his innovative style, which utilized an ensemble cast, stressed atmosphere and character over plot, and made use of multiple microphones to create an affect of overlapping dialogue. Altman’s other films of note include Nashville, about a political election set in the milieu of the country music scene; McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), a revisionist Western starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie; The Long Goodbye (1973), based on the style of the Raymond Chandler detective novel; and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982), based on a stage play and starring Cher. The Player (1992) includes an all-star ensemble cast in a spoof of the milieu of the Hollywood film industry.
Carver’s writing style has been referred to as “minimalist,” because of his rigorously sparse prose. Minimalism began as a movement in the visual arts, primarily in the United States, in the 1960s. The minimalists were responding to the abstract expressionism of the 1950s. Minimalism in the visual arts was based on the principal that a work of art should not refer to anything real, but only to its own visual properties. Minimalism in music was largely inspired by minimalism in the visual arts. Minimalist music is characterized by simple, repetitive compositions. Philip Glass (born 1937), whose style is characterized by monotonous repetition and sparse composition, was a leading composer in minimalist music in the 1960s. Some of his most famous compositions are the operas Einstein on the Beach (1976), and The Voyage (1992), which was commissioned by the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Carver’s stories often include characters who are alcoholics, and depict the ways in which alcoholism can affect relationships between people. Carver himself was an alcoholic for over ten years, until he took his last drink in 1977. The organization Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), devoted to helping alcoholics quit drinking and stay sober, was an important influence on Carver’s life, and he considered his recovery from alcoholism to be his greatest achievement in life. Alcoholics Anonymous originated in 1935 when two friends, William Griffith Wilson (1895-1971), a stockbroker, and Robert Holbrook Smith (1879-1950), a surgeon, got together to help each other quit drinking. They published the book Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939, which put forth the program they had devised. There are now approximately two million members of AA throughout the world. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, there are an estimated 5,400,000 alcoholics in the United States at any given time.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Raymond Carver, Published by Gale Group, 2001.