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Never having read any writing by Raymond Carver before, I was pleasantly surprised with the variety of emotions brought out in me as I read each of the short stories in this collection. The raw grittiness of Carver’s character’s, personal wounds wide open for the world to see, sweating, naked, and wasted- somehow make them so familiar and true.

“Feathers” is the first story in the book and every line is great.  I must say, though, that each story made me smile, which is saying something because they aren’t necessarily meant to be uplifting. Anyway…”Feathers” is narrated by a visitor, Jack who has been invited to the family home of Bud and Olia. The reader knows some mystery lies ahead, but what could it be? Since Bud never mentions Olia or their baby Harold, before Jack arrives, he knows when he does arrive there must be a foreboding secret.

Next, the reader is drawn into a story deeply imbedded with the minutest details of character actions and personality traits. This family can only be described a trashy.  Junk is tossed about in the yard. Bud the beer drinker. Fran the fatty. Poor baby, Harold: ‘Bar none, the ugliest baby I had ever seen.’All of it written in a laugh-out- loud hysterical manner. The narrator is shocked by the way they live. But nothing can prepare him for what he finds inside.

Inside the home is the family pet, a peacock. The peacock is allowed to sit on the floor and play with the baby. Even worse, the monster bird eats dinner with them. The awkwardness and shock of the narrator, Jack and his guest, Fran, is just about experienced by the reader.

The constant glances exchanged between Jack and Fran, indicating their mutual observation of the inadequacies and craziness of the situation they have been presented with show how natural it is for people to degrade others they believe to act differently from themselves. In this case, Jack and Fran decide that Bud and Olia live and act so far from normalcy that the family they eventually create themselves could never be so absurd. What they don’t realize is that one person’s trash is another’s treasure!

Carver’s later stories from Cathedral  tend toward more serious subjects, but always remain true to life, exceedingly well written and compelling. He tends to focus on similar themes in much of his writing such as family, alcoholism, dreams and loss. If you are a fan of short stories, beginning this book with “Feathers” is a great start. Ending the book with “Catherdral,” one of the most captivating short stories I’ve ever read is, perhaps, what Carver intended as a catharsis for his readers. Everyone should read Carver’s works. Everyone should read this book.

Final Rating: 5 out 5 Stars

For more information:

New York Times author stuff: http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/c/raymond_carver/index.html

really cool about author: http://www.carversite.com/