We gave it a B-
The occasion for Raymond Carver’s Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose is the discovery of five small, good things among the author’s papers in 1999, 11 years after his death. ”Kindling” is the one most typical of both his thematic fixations (blue collars, yellow livers, the white noise of alienation) and his storytelling genius (the beautiful economy of detail and deceptive complexity of structure).
It’s August — it’s often still and stifling August in Carver’s imagination — and the protagonist, Myers, has just done his four weeks at a rehab clinic. Needing to flee somewhere, he rents a room in the country and proceeds to sit around the house all day blankly. Then — intrigued by a load of wood delivered to his landlord’s backyard and as engaged by the purity of good labor as any Hemingway hero — Myers chops logs for two days straight, then decides to move on, and showers and goes to sleep in his boarding room bed one last time.
Sweat, fear, nomadic desperation — Carver. Likewise, ”Dreams,” a gem about the impact of a next door nightmare, showcases his talent for forging domestic myths. The title story, ”What Would You Like to See?,” and ”Vandals” each slyly explore marital tension by sliding between memory and desire. And even though the themes and images on display here anticipate those of classics already in the canon, the stories still stand up in their own right.
But let the buyer beware: The 200 pages that follow the newfound material must be classified as padding. Most of the ”other prose” here has appeared in collections before, and some of it shouldn’t have appeared anywhere ever — vacant book reviews, regurgitated advice, seven pages of an abandoned novel, lazy essays, some really juvenile juvenilia, plus a hokey commencement speech. For Carver experts, this stuff is redundant; for casual fans, it’s a nuisance. Will he please be quiet, please?