Will You Please Be Quiet, Please
At fifteen, I discovered Raymond Carver in a book of short stories that two friends of my parents kindly let me lift from their house in the middle of a car trip. Carver writes wonderfully about empathy. The poems he wrote in his later life have an expansiveness and contentment (just read ‘Gravy’ or ‘Late Fragment,’ if you’re feeling out of sorts; they’re not high art but they’re not trying to be) that are starting to show their faces here, but they’re still looking round a lot of dark corners. I was immediately taken in by the story ‘Fat,’ about an unnamed waitress looking after an obese man who comes into the diner where she works. It’s a strange, enigmatic story, and one which I’ve tried and failed to understand many times, but it’s a delicious read. The waitress finds herself identifying with the man in a way that she can’t articulate, though she clearly wants to. When Carver’s stories have been adapted for the screen (think Short Cuts and Jindabyne) this one has never been among them. I think it would be impossible to get across the relationship between these two strangers, the growing understanding between them and the waitress’s final verdict: ‘My life is going to change. I know it.’ Why? And who among us hasn’t felt that way at some point, for what seems to be no reason? Another great empathy story is Carver’s ‘Cathedral,’ which involves some of the best use of pencils, paper and marijuana in short fiction, but that story is arguably better known than ‘Fat,’ which to me is still one of the best examples of inexplicable connection and unlooked-for kindness ever written, coupled with the difficulty both the waitress and the writer have in trying to explain exactly what they mean when they talk about this one remarkable meeting of two human beings.