Tournament of Short Stories: Kelly Link vs. Raymond Carver

I hope Kelly Link won’t be mad at me.

Kelly Link has had several stories featured on my favorite short story podcast, Podcastle.  If you’re a fan of fantasy/science fiction or just a fan of good, entertaining stories, you should be subscribing to Podcastle.  I loved her featured zombie stories “The Hortlak” and “Some Zombie Contingencies Plans” neither of which is really about zombies.

So when I saw her new collection down at Skylight Books in Los Angeles, I picked it up.  So, far…..I’ve like some more than others.

Maybe having a narrator did the trick with the Podcastle stories.  Though they were also about people in their late teens/early twenties having issues with life people that age have, neither one bothered me.  That’s not really right.  I wasn’t bothered by the overall early life malaise suffered by the characters in either “Origin Story” or “Valley of the Girls” I just never quite cared about it like I did with the Podcastle stories.

I don’t mean to dismiss late teen angst as an issue, I suffered from plenty of it back in the day and I have the journals to prove it.  I just don’t really have to suffer it anymore.  And I didn’t find it all that entertaining this time around.  The fantastic elements in both stories were original, kind of fun, but not enough to make the stories work for me.  Strange to note that the two stories with zombies were much more grounded in reality; they didn’t even have that many zombies in them.

So the victory this time around is going to go to Mr. Carver.  Both “Vitamins”  and “Careful” which I read for this round, were terrific.  So far Mr. Carver can do no wrong.  “Vitamins” may be problematic for some readers due to racial and sexual issues portrayed accurately for the setting but in ways that are not accepted today.  Still, Mr. Carver has a way of getting under his characters skin, and under this readers skin, that is seldom matched.

Both stories featured bad husbands this time.  In “Vitamins” a man cheats on his wife, the only time he will do so, with one of her employees.  Both are kind of horrified at what they are doing, but they do it anyway.  Mr. Carver makes this behavior not just believable but understandable.  We don’t approve of what they are doing, but we can see how we might be at least tempted to do the same in their shoes.  

In “Careful” a man tries to convince his wife that he has given up drinking enough for her to come back to him. He has it under control he says; just champagne.

I’ve been reading a lot about alcoholism lately: Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski, The Lost Weekend. All more or less contemporary, all dealing with drinking and its effect on drinkers and those around them.  While Mr. Carver’s stories have been the most understated, not grand three-day drunks or operatic drinking stories here, they strike me as probably the most common stories, the ones most likely to happen to more people.

Part of how his characters get under your skin, I guess.

So Raymond Carver is my current short story hero, the one I’m putting money on to go the distance and win the tournament.

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. I agree about the not-necessarily-desirable need to relive teen angst! I find it very amusing however that so many of these books in particular focus on two aspects that still give me nightmares sometimes: The Cafeteria and The Locker. LOL

  2. N@ncy says:

    I read ‘Vitamins this year too…
    An Irish proverb sums up the theme: ” What whiskey will not cure, there is no cure for.”
    Great review….and I agree, Raymond Carver is one of the best short story writers ….ever!

    1. I can see that, but the cure turns out to be worse than the disease, sometimes it’s oddly the cause of the disease, too. Still, great stories.

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