alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions

Fat, by Raymond Carver


I read this story because Robb insisted. He thinks Carver is good. I think Carver has the sheen of cool around him so much that he’s gone a little greasy. The last time we had this discussion about 6 months ago, I dragged out one of my undergrad anthologies and started reading the one about the blind man (‘Cathedral’). I didn’t finish it. But now I’m all resolved, what with mini-challenges and all. I got specific. I said, What story? And he said, Fat.

I got ‘Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” out of the library on Saturday morning, and finished my current novel Saturday afternoon, which meant I didn’t have any more excuses. I was thinking maybe I would read it over Sunday morning pancakes or something, and I cracked the cover to see exactly how much I was in for, and….six pages. That didn’t seem so bad. Even I can handle that.

So now I’ve got Reason #1 to read short stories. It’s called ‘Fast-Track To a Sense of Accomplishment & Triumph.’ In no time at all, I had finished what I set out to do. And you know what, Robb? You were right. I did like this one.

Since the story was so short I hesitate to do a normal summary. What could I say without giving it all away? A list instead, I think:

–There is a waitress.
–There is a fat man.
–The fat man would like the Special, but we may have a dish of vanilla ice cream as well. With just a drop of chocolate syrup, if you please.

The story is so compact that anything else I could say would either be wrong, or give something away. It is so tight, and so seemingly matter-of-fact that certain lines ring and ring with significance. The bit I liked best of all, was the last 3 lines, mostly because I wouldn’t have thought to put them there. Because I didn’t expect to find them there. The story had already closed, and those 3 lines opened. Suggested a whole different story had taken place before I joined the story on the page.

I was so reconciled by this point, that I even read the next story in the collection, ‘Neighbors.’ It was seriously weirder. And I kept wondering what would happen to the Kitty.

Author: Alisa Alering

I write stories. I read stories.

5 thoughts on “Fat, by Raymond Carver

  1. I’m glad you like it. I really like his compression and his hopelessness. The stories feel very real to me… like these are things that are going on but not filmed because of their insignificance in an episode of The Wire.

    Carver had a wicked fucked up and sad life. Family dramas of an ugly nature and, on my review, he seemed like he might have been a legitimately bad man.

    He was poor, deriving income only from his stories which were compiled too late to save him from early death driven by depression and poorness, it seems.

    He felt that his family and his situation kept him from writing the novels that he wanted to write and hoped to be able to write them in his later years, which he did not live to see.

    He was as sketchy-sounding as his characters are. I’ve read half of _Please Be Quiet…_ and half of _Where I’m Calling From_, the latter having longer stories overall that I find more satisfying. But “Fat,” the first story that I read has always been my favorite since my Intro to Poetry teacher had us read it before we started writing anything. Using fiction to inform poetry was an interesting choice, but a good one that I still lean on — lots of things to steal and you know what they say about poets.

  2. Also, I’m currently and unstoppably drawn into Updike’s Early Stories compilation. He makes it seem so easy and he glides through stories defining characters with the slightest observations, leaving things so wide open at the end in the best possible way.

    I’ve never gone back to him since a death-march 1 day reading of one of this Rabbit books, which I despised at age 18. But I could get the first four stories out of this book for free on my Kindle so I went for it and I’m so glad I did.

    Have you checked out the “Selected Shorts” podcast? Also “The Moth” (which are true stories told on stage without notes. Can’t say enough good things about them, although they are both inconsistent enough to try a few before giving up on them.

  3. My understanding of Carver is that he wasn’t a bad man so much as he had problems with alcoholism. And I think at a certain point he felt that the short story was simply his form, and that he wasn’t really a novelist in general.

    “Fat” is one of my favorites of his short stories. I loved it for all the same reasons you describe, Alisa. That ending is gorgeous, and the voice of the narrator so intimate, and the fat man, so weird with his constant reference to himself as “we”. It’s wonderful.

  4. Read this story 20 years ago and still remember it. Am about to dig into boxes in my garage to find the short story book that it’s in.

    • Matt,

      It’s awesome that you’re going to excavate your garage just to read a short story again. Crazy how words can resonate over the years.

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