Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Much of what would be called exposition and characterization in a more conventional story is omitted from “Why Don’t You Dance?” The reader knows little about the man or about the young couple, and this deliberate vagueness forces the reader to speculate, to fill in the gaps in the narrative. What has become of the man’s marriage? Why has he emptied the contents of his house onto the lawn? Most important, what happens at the end of the story? By posing but refusing to answer such questions, the story leaves everything to the reader’s imagination, thus producing not one but an infinite number of possible narratives. Paradoxically, this story—which is superficially so brief and so simple—is highly complex, subject to almost limitless interpretation.

Unlike many of Carver’s short stories, “Why Don’t You Dance?” is less a realistic portrayal of middle-class life than a parable of human relationships and human suffering. In this most minimalist of narratives, a writer famed for his spareness of style succeeds in evoking a tragedy as universal as it is disturbing.


(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.