Overview Of Carver Short Stories

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Raymond Carver was a Famous short story writer. An American literary icon who has kept a place for himself as one of the all-time most celebrated writers of prose. Carver tragically died at the young age of Fifty from Lung Cancer.

This essay will explore how Carvers nine short stories and one poem “Lemonade” in his collection of stories is transformed by the filmmaker Robert Altman and turned into a Movie called “SHORTCUTS”. Film viewers who have seen Altman’s iconic film “Short Cuts” will see the nine short stories combined and interweaved into a film. The film is shot in the suburbs of Los Angeles. The stories are twisted magnificently, by Altman into a cinematic narrative to create a whole new story but still leaving the original short stories intact and recognisable but with some departure from the original text that allows the filmmaker to create a new entity and a new piece of art.

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These stories are about everyday people, ordinary people with average life’s problems. In one of the stories, a couple is asked to mind the flat and look after the cat of their wealthier neighbours. This responsibility becomes an essential factor in their otherwise ordinary and boring lives with some hilarious consequences; in another of the stories, an unemployed husband convinces his wife, a waitress in a cafe, to lose some weight. This is brought on when he hears a group of men make comments regarding her thighs when she is serving them. Another of the stories follows the sexual exploits of a married man that eventually leads to an unexpected tragedy. In one famous short story, “Will you please be quiet, please?” an ordinary evening at home between a married couple gets out of control after an adulterous incident from a past time comes up casually in the conversation. A typical scenario from ordinary life, everything going fine, one wrong comment and the Man ending up drunk and sleeping on the sofa.

Arguably the most famous story of the nine which is re-told in the film and also features in an Australian movie called “Jindabyne” is “So much water so close to home” about a group of mates who go on a fishing trip and find the body of a young girl drowned in the river. They contemplate about what to do about the body but eventually decide to tie her to the stones and go about their normal routine, fishing. They notify the law a few days later. The Wife of Stuart, one of the fishermen is shocked. She is appalled, but Stuart cannot understand her reaction. The short story is told from Stuart’s Wife’s viewpoint, but in Altman’s film, it is told from the Man’s point of view.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Robert Altman stated ‘I am not doing a literal translation of Carver, nor did I ever say I was going to, ‘If anything, the film is a reflection not just of my interpretation, but of those of a hundred other people who worked on it. We were all responding to the material. … The suggestion has been made that we — my collaborator Frank Barhydt and myself — could have drawn more conclusions. Well, many of Carver’s pieces are more like news stories. He tells what happened and he makes no comment. We tried to do the same thing”. (Anon, 2019)

Of course, Altman’s job was to make a film that would capture an audience. The art of writing has been around a lot longer than the art of film making. Some would argue that there is no comparison between the two arts. Altman took the nine individual stories and created “THE CARVER SOUP.” a description used by many to describe the work by Altman.

Altman introduced Jazz Music into the film and had to create a new character “TESS.” The Tess character in the film is an ageing Jazz musician, and it opens the door for Altman to mix another character into the soup and justify the music.

Altman speaking to the NEW YORK TIMES stated; “: I translate what I saw in Carver’s work. I’m trying to use what was written and the effect it had on me. My authorship is shaky and doubtful in this. I’m trying to take an experience that I had in reading these stories and use elements and pieces of them to give a similar experience to a film audience”. (Movies2.nytimes.com, 2019)

If the above statement is true, it can be argued that if a thousand different readers of Carver’s stories made a film, there could be very different thousand films.

Most would agree that Altman had to create a new entity and create something in the art of film and fiction. He received mixed reviews about this work. He is accused of being disrespectful to Women in the way he portrays them in the film. He tells the stories from the different point of views to that in the stories. He introduced a love scene between Stuart and his wife Claire after the fishing trip, he then tells her of the body, and she is repulsed. In the story, she is not told until the following morning. All these subtle changes make much difference in the way the characters are judged.

Personal experience in reading one short Story without reading the others and adapting it to script in a Screenwriting class in GMIT Galway showed how far filmmakers could stray from a story they adapt to film. The one about the Waitress being told to lose weight by her husband brought this student on a dark journey of an abused wife, rape, murder, revenge and sadness. This idea all came from a remark made about a Woman’s thighs! How would Carver feel about this adaptation? Surely Carver never imagined this story in this context. Would this student have taken this direction if he or she had read the other stories and mixed them into the so-called soup? The different scenarios are endless. Can this students adaptation be compared to Altman’s tragic ending of rape and an earthquake and the sadness. How Ironic that this student who read one story introduced the darkness of violent rape into his story without having seen Altman’s Rape ending!

Altman had to create the film with Twenty Two characters from a mixture of short stories. In the short stories, most of these characters lived in their separate times and worlds. Altman mixed them all in his mind and used his imagination, experiences of life and his film skills to create a film. Surely it can be argued that these stories only provided him with an idea for a film. He can change the stories in so many different ways by introducing different scenes in the film. Take the short story. “ A Small, Good Thing,’ where a little boy gets run over by a car, Ann asks her husband to say a prayer for the little boy. Are the audience supposed to think that Carver the writer was religious? Is it known if Carver was a believer in a God or a Higher power he prayed to?

It has also been discussed in various reviews about the class of the Characters. In Carvers storeys, unemployment and hardship is a theme and based on the 1970s recession, but in the Film, there is only a brief mention of this, and in fact, Stuart is the only unemployed character. To conclude, it can be said that these two work of arts can be treated as different entities, different art, and different thoughts created by very different Men. One a writer of prose and another a Filmmaker. It can also be argued that the viewer has no right to expect one form of art to resemble another.


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