So far I do not like Blackbirds by Raymond Carver. It is one of his later stories, and I don’t think I’m strong enough. I want to like it, but its center of gravity is elsewhere in comparison to the style he had built to this point. Yes, a lack of strength. Thin genes are to blame. Nights of sleep when there should have been words. I never grew big, not big enough. I was stronger in college. With a meal card and a 24-hour gym, I could bench press Kafka and curl Dostoevskij at the drop of a hat. It helped to have no social life. I was thick with it. I could feel the blood coursing through, especially in summer when classmates have you flexing against the weight of better judgment. My arms were brown. I slept well at night. I wrote letters to myself in a foreign hand.
Right off the bat, the guy doesn’t think it’s her handwriting. It is a letter that has been slipped under the door of his study. The setup is good. Mystery in the familiar home. What’s not to like? He pauses to venture down a side narrative about his memory, filling some lines and questioning the questionability his own narration. He lapses into an inner monologue fans of Carver recognize, only to return to the present and begin to transform the simple act of receiving a letter into a muted psychological thriller. Returning to confusing letter, and a noise down the hall, his house – this place of comfort and a buttress against the outside world – is suddenly a place not entirely known, a distrusted other. All the lights are on, but soft, subtle noises are slowly transfiguring it from a place of solace to a reluctant funhouse, something he must confront. But too soon the jig is up, and we see the letter is, indeed, of his wife’s hand. Like the protagonist, I am distraught as the story strays further from me, soon just outside my reach and pledging never to return. It is of no use, I fear. Like his wife, it has decided and is already walking away. I want to stop it, but I am not strong enough. If I could only call on others to help.
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