Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Carver’s clear, uncluttered syntax; short, simple sentences; and judicious use of repetition make comparisons with Ernest Hemingway inevitable. With Hemingway, Carver clearly represents the realist tradition in fiction, and the stories collected in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981), Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976), and Cathedral (1983, the collection in which “A Small, Good Thing” appears) established him as one of that tradition’s foremost American practitioners.

The profundity of such stories as “A Small, Good Thing” resides in what lies beneath the uncomplicated surface of Carver’s prose: complex and universal emotions with which even the most casual reader must instantly identify. In his quest for the right word that will trigger this sympathetic response, Carver does for twentieth century America what Flaubert did for France a century earlier: He exposes and records the emotional nuances, the tensions and the trials, of a troubled middle class.