So Much Water So Close To Home

A few words on a favourite.

So Much Water So Close to Home by Raymond Carver (originally published 1981)

Read in Fires, published 1988.

One of the marvels of writing is that so much can be done with so little, and Raymond Carver is a master of that. This is a short story told from the perspective of Claire, whose husband Stuart returns home from a fishing trip where he and his friends found the corpse of a young girl in a river. When it becomes clear that they delayed reporting the girl to finish their drunken sojourn, Claire is disgusted, and their relationship disintegrates.

Carver sets emphasis on the aftermath of the event. This is a story about the failures of men rather than an investigation of a killer. In one sequence he writes as Claire, speaking of her husband:

‘He stares as I spread a sheet over the sofa. When I start to go for a pillow, he stands at the bedroom door, blocking the way.’

There is nothing complex in this sequence, but we see with clarity the degenerated state of their relationship. Carver’s simplistic language choices draw this point: Stuart stares, trying to get a sense of her, and blocks her to make her more vulnerable to him. He feels betrayed by her decision to not share his bed, as he fails to understand the consequences of his actions, or his wife’s reaction to them. How could he have done anything wrong, he wonders, when he didn’t do anything at all? Getting drunk is the only answer Stuart can summon.

His failures have wider consequences for Claire. Carver writes a sequence where a man drives after her, supposedly concerned for her safety on the road. Later, Claire notices the lingering eyes of a delivery boy on the open throat of her robe. These events represent the darkening of Claire’s world. She no longer see’s cause to trust, and why should she after such experiences? When she attends the murdered girl’s funeral, and hears the murderer is captured by police, she immediately responds:

‘He might not have acted alone.’  

It could have been anyone, she thinks. The delivery boy, the driver, her husband.

It is a bleak piece, but it is honest and beautiful, written in a sparse but perfectly measured style. Carver’s protagonists are often crippled by their alcoholism and apathy, but it is rare for the consequences of these inactions and failures to be so artfully drawn. It is rare for someone to say so much, with so little.  

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