39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2003
It is a cruel, un-poetic injustice, that Raymond Carver's life was tragically cut short just when his stories began to take on glimmers of hope that were nowhere to be seen in his earlier collections.
When this book first came out, I was eager to read new stories from my favorite "minimalist" (isn't there a better word these days than "minimalist"?) writer. Instead, I was reading stories about compassion, good-natured friendships, and even salvation and forgiveness. Sure there were still the choppy sentences, quick observations, and weighty silences. But it was different. Many of the stories, not all, ended with an unusual (for Carver) sense of closure, even understanding. As so many reviewers have noted, the title story is just glorious. The narrator, a sarcastic and distant husband, finds human contact in the strangest circumstance. And when he does, he simply states, "It was like nothing else in my life up to now." Simple, but it leaves a serious lump in my throat each time I read it.
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2004
Unlike so many writers who came before him, Carver cuts to the bone--with a sharp, jagged knife. Sometimes what you find there isn't what you were looking for: the epiphanies aren't astounding; you're not going to scream anything (especially not Eureka!). No, Carver will, though, leave you nodding, talking to yourself ("It's just like that, isn't it?"), as you fill your glass and wonder why you were fooled by the gloss and shimmer of modern living. "A Small, Good Thing," "Feathers," "Cathedral"--these are contemporary masterpieces. You know they are because when you're done reading them you can't tell whether you've been cheated or rewarded beyond your investment--it's the latter, it's the latter! What do you give to a short story? An hour, maybe? Usually, you give less. What do you hope to take with you? A smile? A smirk? Certainly, no answers? Ah! But, guess what? Carver answers questions nobody who is well paid and well fed and not dying for a drink wouldn't ever think of asking. Not that you have to be desperate to get it. But if you are (in your own secret, silent way), then read these stories. The flowers won't be any brighter, the sky any clearer, when you're done. But you'll see yourself a bit more clearly (more honestly, I almost want to say, but how many of us do that?) and maybe understand those people you've never understood, who don't waste too much time trying to amuse themselves.
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2003
There are a lot of people out there who want to tell you what to think about Raymond Carver. Shut the door on them, read CATHEDRAL and make up your own mind. This is a strong collection of stories; I think it bears comparison to Joyce's DUBLINERS. Each story is separate from another, but together they build a cohesive vision of the dusky corners of life in the later half of the 20th century. Sure his fiction is littered with alcoholics, divorces, and failure, but he finds the sympathetic quality that keeps you reading. In terms of structure, he creates a setting and exposition according to conventional rules of story construction, then subverts the climax into the protagonist's interior, so that the action is really about an invisible turning point in a life, when something goes out of it or lanes are switched, when self knowledge is made or lost. You would think that would mean so many characters stepping up to the plate and getting hit with the same ball, but each story is unique. The collection has variety and texture; it has heart without sentimentality. The prose is clean and undecorative, but never sterile. Carver gets it right; he should not be blamed for the plethora of boring contemporary literary fiction that has tried to ape him ever since he took the world's notice.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 1998
I just finished reading a review saying that Carver was dull and overrated and that the reviewer felt sorry for students who were force-fed his work. Having just graduated from high school, I am forced to explain that any teacher brave enough to try and teach such a deep and incredible writer should be commended. This is the kind of writing that students need to see, realistic and gripping. Carver writes extraordinary stories about ordinary people. I am eternally in debt to the uncle who pointed me toward Carver's work.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2002
This is what we think about when we think about great writing. How can one person know so much about ourselves and everyone? Carver has been in all of our heads and has put us all down on paper, exposing us for who we are and what we really think about. Cathedral is the highlight of this collection. The images that are conjured up when a blind man help a man with perfect sight learn how to draw a cathedral he sees on televison is the most moving set of words I have ever read. These stories make you wonder what you are really like and then you realize that he's right, this is what you're like. A coaxing baker torments a family by hounding them about a cake they haven't picked up for their dead sons birthday. They confront him and he ends up being the grounding force for these grieving parents, the voice of reason and sensibility that brings them back to normal. These stories are wonderfully simple and simply perfect.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2000
From the blind man who merely wants to feel a cathedal under his fingers, to the lonely baker surrounded by cake frosting, the characters in "Cathedral" are so real it's sometimes painful to read. Only Carver is capable of leaving out all authorial commentary - he presents a situation, and leaves the reader to digest it, taking away what he or she will from the people and their lives. Anyone who says "Cathedral" is boring simply has no imagination - Carver leaves the reader to continue the stories by themselves, on their own time, and he allows them to glean however much wisdom they desire from each tiny slice of life. If you are tired of being told how to feel by writers who believe they know everything about human emotions, Carver is perfect for you. He is minimalism at its best, yet with such a profound grasp of human interaction that he feels no need to share the obvious - and in an age when morals are thrown in our faces, it's nice to know there's still someone who believes in letting the readers draw their own conclusions.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2007
I read some of the stories in Cathedral during my undergraduate years, and upon my recent re-reading of the entire short story collection, I realize now how little I understood Raymond Carver's work back then. I have since read nearly all of Carver's stories, which, collectively, have come to represent a revival of the short story during the 1980s. Arguably, the short story has since fallen away again, but looking back at Carver gives me hope for the genre, that new work can still be done.
I have most often heard Carver's stories described as minimalist, short punctuations of reality, stripped of all ornament, so that only the meat and bones of the narrative remain. At the risk of mixing metaphors, Carver boils away and/or dissolves whatever can be left out or hidden. He cuts, cuts, and cuts some more. When you do that to your own writing, you can carve through all of your unnecessary words and see the true meaning - or so the theory of minimalism goes.
The world in Carver's Cathedral at times portrays among the starkest realities I can imagine. In his darker stories, like "Feathers," "The Compartment," and "The Train," Carver's characters are not human beings reduced to animals, but rather humans unveiled: We talk, move, drink, smoke, eat, love, dread, dream, and die. So much of our lives exists inside our heads, and I think Carver reveals what little we actually do in the world and how much we think and keep to ourselves. The result, in the majority of Cathedral, is a world fraught with miscommunication and terrible relationships. But Carver plows ahead into the depths of dark narratives bravely. He brings us along as if to show us, for the first time, what a dead body looks and smells like, and we know he isn't lying.
But then, in the middle of the collection, Carver takes a very small turn. He doesn't give up hopelessness entirely, but his characters seem to salvage some kind of rectitude in the larger waste of their lives in stories like "A Good, Small Thing," "Fever," and the title story, "Cathedral." These stories seem to me more mature and better crafted, because the endings aren't committed exclusively to happiness or dread, but rather to intellectual clarification of a profound moment in a character's life.
There's a reason why "Cathedral" is often anthologized among other great and representative stories. In the story, Carver portrays a sense of humor and irony that isn't as developed in the rest of the collection. The mythic quality of the story gives the reader a spiritual glimpse into what is otherwise mundane. We make beauty, the story seems to say.
What I like best about Carver's stories is his attention to only the essential. He doesn't have to provide a long description of the setting and time, because it's our time, our setting. We already know where we are in his stories, and we look to him to remind us where we are going.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 1998
Raymond Carver's short stories in the book "Cathedral" do tell perhaps of his life's stories but there is more here. It is what he doesn't say that makes the stories so unique. It is what is left when one finishes a story...the feelings, sad or dismayed or maybe even "I don't care" that come from the writings but are not of the writings It isn't what he writes but what he doesn't write. It is what he leaves you with and each reader can be left with something different. Carver is one writer who can be enjoyed by a man or a woman. His slices may be short stories but they are huge slices indeed. This is a book to read when you don't mind thinking a lot!.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 1997
Not since J.D. Salinger's "9 Stories" has an American author shown such mastery of the short story form. Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" is a must read for anyone who has craved great short stories ever since Salinger disappeared.
In Cathedral, each of the stories creates an emotional landscape. At the end of each story, one is left with a feeling, an emotional tone that the story conveyed. Since most of the stories are about alcoholism, often the feeling is one of numbness. Carver creates these landscapes not by describing what his characters feel, but through his descriptions of the details of their lives: the way they talk, the way their homes look, how they interact with friends and lovers. In Cathedral often the slightest detail, exquisitely described, can speak volumes.
While reading Cathedral, at the end of each story I kept thinking, "The next one can't be as good as the last." Carver consistently proved me wrong, up until the last story. Since Cathedral reminded me so much of "9 Stories", I expected Carver's strongest, most ephiphanal story to be at the end of the book. While the last story was no "Teddy", it was well written and maintained the emotional tone Carver had built through all the previous stories. What it lacked in epiphany, it made up for in consistency.
I came away from Cathedral feeling like I had eaten a three-course gourmet meal and had been served great coffee afterwards. I highly recommend this book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2009
While "Where I'm Calling From" and "Cathedral" are probably two of the best short-stories in American literature, the rest of the stories in this collection don't reach the same high-water mark. These are snapshots into the mundane lives of ordinary people - which may be poetic in one sense but makes for a boring read in another. While there isn't much happening in the stories, Carver's pacing is also painfully slow at times. Nonetheless, Carver is a master of the craft - what he does with point-of-view is amazing. I recommend this book to all short-story writers - take notes - there's much to learn from Carver's style.