July 30, 2004

Call If You Need Me
The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose
Raymond Carver

Try a Little Tenderness -- We live in a hard, swift, cynical age, enraged by stress and racked by fear -- the fear that we're falling behind while everyone else is getting ahead, making more, moving faster, excelling, succeeding, winning ... happy. You can see this manifested in everything from the way grown-ups speak to one another (always interrupting, never listening) to the way in which children increasingly turn to guns and bullets to settle the score. "'Tenderness,'" Raymond Carver writes here in a commencement address, his last written prose, "that's certainly another word we don't hear much these days, and certainly not on such a public, joyful occasion as this. Think about it: When was the last time you used the word or heard it used?" Tenderness, indeed. I wept after reading, "Dreams," one of the "new" short stories featured here. I wept because it's a story about horrible things that frequently happen to ordinary people and the ways in which human beings often try to be simply decent to their neighbors. "Dreams" is just the sort of story you see televised a dozen times, night after night, on the evening news. But those "real" stories don't stand up next to Carver's fiction. He helps us see, let's us hear and above all else, he makes us feel. And to feel anything in this day and age -- when it's too easy to laugh sarcastically, when everyone is so guarded against allowing themselves to feel true emotion (let alone anything as overwhlemingly subtle as tenderness!) -- is nothing less than enobling.


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