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Reflections on “Why Don’t You Dance?”

The path from the son of an Arkansas lumberjack to a guru of short prose is related to Carver who wrote only short stories and poetry. Carver was born in the tiny town of Clatskanie, with about seven hundred inhabitants. His mother is a waitress for life, and his father is a worker who does not part with a bottle. By the age of twenty, Raymond had two children of his own and changed a fair number of professions. Until thirty, he will have time to work as a night watchman, messenger, nurse, janitor, gas station operator, and even start collecting mountain tulips at night. Not very talented in terms of family life, Carver, however, was inhumanly gifted in literature.

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Carver’s prose, devoid of monograms and looking at human fates point-blank, resembles a bag so densely packed with life that the cloth, while one twirls it in his or her hands and listen, barely noticeably bursts at the seams. However, it is one thing to push life into the story to the eyeballs and quite another thing to organize the text in such a way that behind the crackle of the cloth, one could discern someone’s voices.

Every detail, every phrase speaks more than the letters that captured it on paper can say. Here, Carver succeeds in the perfect magic: with purely dramatic means, and he creates a context in which phrases and details become ambiguous, on the fly give rise to subtext. Verbal sparseness only complements this effect: gestures and things devoid of descriptive “rubbish” acquire significance, forcing the reader to finish building in his head what the author deliberately omits.

One of the shortest and, at the same time, dazzling stories of Carver is Why don’t you dance? In the first line, a man with a glass of whiskey in his hand examines the things that he just pulled out of the house: a bed, a chest of drawers, a heater, a TV, a record player (Carver, 2004). In the next paragraph, a young couple stops at the house and, believing that this is a garage sale, begins to examine it turned inside out. The owner, returning from the store with whiskey, finds the TV on, the girl on the bed and the guy on the porch. A man listlessly sells his things to a couple and invites them to drink and a little later – to dance. At some point, the drunk guy sits down on the bed, and the owner takes over to dance instead. “You must be desperate or something,” the girl whispers in his ear (Carver, 2004, p. 6); in general, this is the end.

Magic is in the details – Carver, for example, does not comment on the act of his hero, who pulled all the furniture out of the house. As a result, a quiet tragedy is born from the said and the untold: here is a man grieving about something vague, and a young couple, who is not as good as it might seem, and an inescapable melancholy. On several pages, Carver manages to exhaustively talk about what he himself called the erosion of society. And so it is in every story: everyday troubles reveal the awkwardness of life, and little things like a can of cheap beer and a hacky sandwich seem large and great. And the life of waitresses, postmen and teenagers about whom Carver writes about seems to be just as big and significant – and all because he spied on them at the moment when she really was.


Carver, R. (2004). Why don’t you dance? Sevanoland. Web.

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