“Life and death matters, yes. And the question of how to behave in this world, how to go in the face of everything. Time is short and the water is rising.”
Raymond Carver (1938-1988) is an American author from Washington state; he is a master of the short fiction genre. His subtle use of language is mesmerizing and he uses it to describe the human condition in fascinating ways. Not surprisingly, Haruki Murakami (1949 – ) is quite fond of Carver’s work and translated it into Japanese back in the 1980s.
In a tribute written to Raymond Carver after his death called Remembering Ray, Haruki Murakami writes an essay called, “Literary Comrades.” In this essay, he details what led up to their first meeting and describes his sincere appreciation of Carver’s work. Murakami calls Carver his most valuable teacher as a writer.
“Through reading books–and later through translation–I studied the art of writing fiction. Or rather, I learned to recognize what constitutes great fiction. And, in this sense, Raymond Carver was without question the most valuable teacher I had and also the greatest literary comrade.” Haruki Murakami, Literary Comrades in Remembering Ray
So after reading one of Carver’s short stories, “So Much Water So Close to Home” (1981) early in his writing career (around 1982), Murakami set out to meet Carver. The story story was the strange tale and Murakami describes his reading experience with enthusiasm:
“This story literally came as a shock to me. I felt just as if I had been out leisurely walking along on a sunny, cloudless afternoon when suddenly lightning struck.”
Haruki Murakami goes on to praise Raymond Carver’s story with equal excitement:
“Although his style is fundamentally realistic, there is something penetrating and profound in his work that “goes beyond simple realism.”
You can access the full story online HERE or it’s a part of Carver’s previously mentioned collection titled, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The story will probably take you 10 minutes to read and will haunt you for the rest of the week, maybe two.
This meeting of the minds was meaningful to both parties; Carver wrote a poem about Murakami after their encounter and Murakami has a photo of Carver hanging on his wall. The poem is called, “The Projectile.”
For Haruki Murakami
We sipped tea. politely musing
on possible reasons for the success
of my books in your country. Slipped
into talk of pain and humiliation
you find occurring, and reoccurring,
in my stories. And that element
of sheer chance. How all this translates
in terms of sales.
I looked into the corner of the room.
And for a minute I was 16 again,
careening around in the snow
in a 50 Dodge sedan with five or six
bozos. Giving the finger
to some other bozos, who yelled and pelted
our car with snowballs, gravel, old
tree branches. We spun away, shouting.
And we were going to leave it at that.
But my window as down by three inches.
Only three inches. I hollered out
one last obscenity. And saw this guy
wind up to throw. From this vantage,
now, I imagine I see it coming. See it
speeding through the air while I watch,
like those soldiers in the first part
of the last century watching canisters
of shot fly in their direction
while they stood, unable to move
for the dread fascination of it.
But I didn’t see it. I’d already turned
my head to laugh with my pals.
When something slammed into the side
of my head so hard it broke my eardrum and fell
in my lap, intact. A ball of packed ice
and snow. The pain was stupendous.
And the humiliation.
It was awful when I began to weep
in front of those tough guys while they
cried, Dumb luck. Freak accident.
A chance in a million!
The guy who threw it, he had to be amazed
and proud of himself while he took
the shouts and backslaps of the others.
He must have wiped his hands on his pants.
And messed around a little more
before going home to supper. He grew up
to have his share of setbacks and got lost
in his life, same as I got lost in mine.
He never gave that afternoon
another thought. And why should he?
So much else to think about always.
Why remember that stupid car sliding
down the road, then turning the corner
We politely raise our teacups in the room.
A room that for a minute something else entered.
But wait, there’s more. One of Carver’s short story collections (named after a fantastic story within the collection) is titled, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Does that title sound familiar? Haruki Murakami asked Carver’s wife, Tess Gallagher, if he could honor Carver by calling his own memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
In “Literary Comrades,” Murakami explains how someone told him the beginning of Raymond Carver’s “Put Yourself in My Shoes” was similar to Murakami’s “The Windup Bird and Tuesday’s Women.” The connection is ever so subtle, and Murakami explains it was unconscious. I suspect there is another ever-so-subtle moment between Carver’s “So Much Water So Close to Home” and Murakami’s “Birthday Girl.” Do you know what it is?