(Masterpieces of American Literature)

This first story in Carver’s controversial collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is characteristic of the qualities of his short fiction at the high point of his career. The story begins with an unidentified man who has, for some unexplained reason, put all of his furniture out on his front lawn. What makes this event more than merely a yard sale is the fact that the man has arranged the furniture exactly as it was when it was in the house and has even plugged in the television and other appliances so that they work as they did inside. The only mention of the homeowner’s wife is the fact that the bed has a nightstand and reading lamp on his side of the bed and a nightstand and reading lamp on “her” side of the bed; this is Carver’s typical unstated way of suggesting that the man’s marriage has collapsed and that his wife is no longer around.

The story begins its muted dramatic turn when a young couple furnishing their first apartment stop by and begin to inspect the furniture. As the young woman tries out the bed and the young man turns on the television, their dialogue is clipped and cryptic, reminiscent of the dialogue of characters in stories by Ernest Hemingway. When the homeowner returns from a trip to the store, the dialogue continues in its understated and laconic way as the couple makes offers for some of the furnishings, and the homeowner indifferently accepts whatever they offer. The homeowner plays a record...

(The entire section is 508 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As he pours himself a drink in the kitchen, a man looks out the window to his front yard, where the bedroom furniture has been arranged almost precisely as it was arranged in the bedroom. There is the bed, flanked by two nightstands and two reading lamps; a chiffonnier; a portable heater; a rattan chair. The kitchen table stands in the driveway, and on top of it are a record player, a box of silverware, and a potted plant. The rest of the furniture is also on the lawn: a desk, a coffee table, a television set, a sofa and chair. Earlier in the day, the man had run an extension cord from the house to the lawn, and now all the electrical items can be operated as well outdoors as they were inside the house.

Later, after the man has gone to the market, a boy and a girl stop at the house, thinking that the furniture on the lawn must signal a yard sale in progress. They begin to examine the items in the yard, and soon the boy turns on the television set and sits down on the sofa to watch it. The girl tries out the bed and invites the boy to join her; though it makes him feel awkward, he gets on the bed with her because there seems to be no one in the house. After a while, the boy decides to see if anyone is at home who can tell him the prices of the items in the yard. The girl instructs him to offer the owner ten dollars less than the asking price for each item.

Meanwhile, the man returns from the market. The boy says that they are interested in the...

(The entire section is 511 words.)