(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“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...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bethea, Arthur F. Technique and Sensibility in the Fiction and Poetry of Raymond Carver. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Campbell, Ewing. Raymond Carver: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Gallagher, Tess. Soul Barnacles: Ten More Years with Ray. Edited by Greg Simon. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

Halpert, Sam. Raymond Carver: An Oral Biography. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995.

Lainsbury, G. P. The Carver Chronotope: Inside the Life-World of Raymond Carver’s Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Nesset, Kirk. The Stories of Raymond Carver: A Critical Study. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1995.

Powell, Jon. “The Stories of Raymond Carver: The Menace of Perpetual Uncertainty.” Studies in Short Fiction 31 (Fall, 1994): 647-656.

Runyon, Randolph Paul. Reading Raymond Carver. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1992.

Saltzman, Arthur M. Understanding Raymond Carver. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

Stull, William L., and Maureen P. Carroll, eds. Remembering Ray: A Composite Biography of Raymond Carver. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1993.