Review: Elephant by Raymond Carver

I’d never read Raymond Carver before Elephant, but fell in love with his minimalist approach in this collection featuring the final seven stories he wrote. Carver’s language is deceptively simple, and sunk its claws into me unlike any writer I’ve read in years. I finished Elephant and immediately wanted to devour more; promptly ordered in his other collections, which I’ll sprinkle into my reading throughout the year.

Most of the stories spotlight middle-age men dealing with some major complexity in their otherwise quotidian lives; the outlier is the finale, Errand, a fictionalised account of Anton Chekhov’s death, which reads well (everything here does) but didn’t grab me in the way the others did.

The opener, Boxes, is fantastic — what an introduction to Carver, who spotlights a man and his wife preparing to help his elderly mother move back to California, while reflecting on her exasperating habit of moving house several times a year; so focused and tantalised on the prospect of the new, never able to find contentedness in the present.

The titular Elephant is about a man marinating on the frustration of being the only dependable person in his family; the one everyone comes to for money, whether that be his son who needs a cheque for his overseas travels (in order to find himself, naturally); his sister, whose lover can’t be depended on, who needs to feed her kids; his faraway mother, who feels isolated and unloved, but is placated by a monthly cheque; then his brother wants to get in on the action.

My favourite is (probably) Menudo, which sees a man trapped in an infidelity, deliberating over leaving his second wife for his mistress (who lives across the road, and whose husband has already walked out, thus paving the way for the beginnings of a veritable relationship).

Carver’s writing is hypnotic, demonstrably showing himself to be in magnificent command of his craft in every single one of these stories. I can’t even tell you how excited I am to read more.

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