Paul Gray (review date 19 September 1983)
SOURCE: A review of Cathedral, in Time, Vol. 122, September 19, 1983, p. 95.
[In the following review, Gray suggests that Cathedral contains hidden depths of meaning.]
For years now, the demographics of the American short story have been moving up-scale. The line of Hemingway drifters and Flannery O'Connor grotesques seems to be dying out. Characters rarely worry any more about finding God or their next meal. They are likely instead to be well educated, sensitive to a fault, politically liberal, and affluent enough to feel pleasurable guilt in their possessions. They tend, in short, to resemble the stereotypical reader of The New Yorker, which is where the luckiest of these fictional people are chosen to appear. The rejected ones must troop off to the quarterlies and go through their paces (at greatly reduced rates) for smaller audiences composed of people with whom they can feel equally at home. These days a good many characters in short stories are also quarterly readers.
Author Raymond Carver, 45, has successfully bucked this trend toward the gentrification of short fiction. Furthermore, he has done so in part in The New Yorker, where three of the twelve stories in Cathedral originally appeared.
Carver's art masquerades as accident, scraps of information that might have been overheard at the supermarket checkout counter or the local beer joint. His most memorable people live on the edge: of poverty, alcoholic self-destruction, loneliness. Something in their lives denies them a sense of community. They feel this lack intensely, yet are too wary of intimacy to touch other people, even with language. "What's to says?" wonders one man. Another, traveling to meet the son he has not seen in many years, dreads the moment of greeting: "He really didn't know what he was going to say."
Such uncertainty leads to eruptions of inappropriate behavior. In "Feathers," a man named Jack and his wife Fran are invited to dinner at the home of one of Jack's co-workers. They arrive and find a...
(The entire section is 870 words.)