Raymond Carver was much taken with the idea that every writer creates a distinctive world: 'Every great or even very good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications . . . It is his world and no other.' The idea is hardly original but one sees why he liked it. Carver's world is something like a room in which the television is always on, unless you happen to be subjecting the neighbours to home movies. The ashtrays are overflowing. There may be an alcoholic, active or reformed, lying on the living-room sofa. Is he thinking about the pint of whiskey he has hidden under the cushions; or has he just got home from an exhausting AA meeting? He has a job he does not like and is not getting on with his wife, who may well be at work in a fast-food restaurant. If so he might just go along there and watch the male customers eyeing her shape. Living somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, he is probably thinking of moving house, perhaps just across the state line to Portland, a city often mentioned but never visited, or, more ambitiously and yet more hopelessly, to Alaska. However, he never does seem to move, and if he ever did find himself in Alaska he would still spend much time smoking on the sofa in front of the television. If he has children he cannot think them unmixed blessings. He knows he needs to love them but cannot bring himself to believe the pleasures of parenthood outweigh its pains.
LRB 19 October 2000 | PDF Download