August 17, 2011, by Jon McGregor

What’s Your Favourite Short Story Collection?

Raymond Carver: Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?

I first read Raymond Carver when I was seventeen, on my way to watch Short Cuts. (I wanted to say I’d read the book first. I was that kind of teenager.) I didn’t get it at first; these were hardly stories at all, I thought, but paper-thin sketches about men who drank too much and waitresses who smoked and boys who went out shooting ducks. And then, each time I closed the book, I realised how much work those few words were doing; how much work they were allowing me, as a reader-participant, to do. And I kept going back for more. I liked the dead-pan humour, the lightly-evoked ache of loss, the idea that these characters could be people I knew. I liked the thought that, with enough practice, I might be able to write like this.

            Which is the problem, of course. It’s a style which is easy to try and imitate; it’s a style which is easy to teach. And so by now, two decades on, if I read one more collection of ‘spare’, ‘taut’, ‘restrained’, or ‘muscular’ stories, I think I’ll probably puke semi-colons. Now, while I still love and return to Raymond Carver’s work, I’m more interested in the lyrical absurdities of Donald Barthelme, or the evocative mis-speaking of George Saunders, or Donald Antrim’s flights of mania, or – and most especially – the rigorous and dense and adventurous minimalism of Lydia Davis, whose Collected Stories is, I’ve decided since I started writing this, my favourite short story collection.

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