“The Bath,” which originally appeared in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, reappeared in the Cathedral collection, revised and renamed “A Small, Good Thing.” The second version is also reprinted in Carver’s final collection, Where I’m Calling From.
Both versions of the story focus on a couple whose son is hit by a car on his eighth birthday and who is hospitalized and in a coma. This horrifying event is made more upsetting by the fact that the couple receives annoying anonymous telephone calls from a baker from whom the wife had earlier ordered a custom-made birthday cake for the child. “The Bath” is a brief story, told in Carver’s early, neutralized style, focusing less on the feelings of the couple than on the mysterious and perverse interruption of the persistent anonymous calls.
The revision, “A Small, Good Thing,” is five times longer than “The Bath.” It develops the emotional life of the couple in more sympathetic detail, suggesting that their prayers for their son bind them together in a genuine human communion that they have never felt before. The parents are given more of a sense of everyday human reality in the revision, and their situation is made more conventionally realistic. The father feels that his life has gone smoothly until this point, and the story thus suggests that neither he nor his wife have ever had their comfortable, middle-class lives threatened by such a...
(The entire section is 557 words.)