Raymond Carver is without a doubt the master of the short story. I'm not sure how long I've been reading his work, but I read for the first time the other night a story that touched me deeply and reminded me in the fullest way possible why I read and why I write and love short stories.
Will You Please Be Quiet, Pleas? tells the story of a man who in a weakened, vulnerable state forces his wife to tell him the truth of a one-night affair that she had. The title characters, Ralph and Marion, met as students years before, fell in love, married, and as the story takes place have two kids. Their love is true and Carver shows this by describing the fealty each had to their own studies and intellectual lives as students, that would only be set aside for the other.
But, one night, at a friend's party with heavy drinking, Marion went out with one of the male friends to purchase more booze and the two ended up having sex in his car. They were gone from the party for three hours.
The pain that passes through the couple as she bit by bit lets details escape until it is all laid out is so expertly done that I shivered as I read it. In my own life I was deeply in love with a woman who on her birthday, during her party, went off with a mutual friend and had sex with him. Months later, I drew it out of her and the pain it caused was and remains excruciating. As it would turn out, I would learn after we broke up that for most of our five year relationship, four of which we lived together, she was continually unfaithful to me with a string of other men. Most were drunken encounters and one where I was left asleep while she went to have sex with another man.
As one friend said after I found all of this out, "It's not like she broke up with you. You just lost your turn."
In Carver's story I saw myself in Ralph. I felt his pain, really agony that someone so close, so intimately connected to you, whom you trusted beyond doubt, and whom you loved like you never thought possible, could betray all of that love and trust. The story was moving beyond words and helped give me a bit more perspective on my own experience, which I think is probably not that uncommon.
And there, is the power of the short story. It can transport you to a place never before known or experienced and bring it to life. Or, it can hit very, very close to home in unexpected and emotionally taut ways.