This varied collection of fiction and prose from the late, great Raymond Carver comes, once again, with an introduction by his widow, Tess Gallagher. The posthumous Carver industry, as overseen by Gallagher, rivals only that of Sylvia Plath for its thoroughness. Perhaps it's no coincidence: both were singular, contagiously influential writers who died too early. But Plath died famously miserable, while Carver died famously happy, having conquered alcohol, loneliness, and obscurity--having conquered, indeed, everything but his own disobedient cancerous cells.
Call If You Need Me includes works previously collected, as well as some that have never been seen before. Five new stories, discovered by Gallagher among Carver's papers, are themselves worth the price of admission. Particularly haunting is "Kindling," a tale of a man who rents a room in a house for a few nights in the hopes of writing a letter to his wife. "He'd just spent twenty-eight days at a drying-out facility," we read. "But during this period his wife took it into her head to go down the road with another drunk, a friend of theirs." The main elements here: a river, a couple in the other room, an unfinished letter waiting on the desk. All this is vintage Carver, as well wrought and engrossing as the Cathedral stories.
Following the new fiction are sections devoted to book reviews, introductions, and early stories. Each presents Carver in a different pose, a different voice. It's interesting and illuminating to compare his casual, often catty discussions of contemporary literature with his deeply felt autobiographical essays. Despite the mysterious purity of his writing, he's more than capable of engaging in literary feuds and pissing matches. Not to be missed, however, is the wrenching autobiographical piece "My Father's Life," which previously appeared in Fires. Also named Raymond, Carver's father struggled with alcohol, failure, and mental illness just as his son did--and just as his son did, he wanted to come out the other side and see his life clearly. This is an essay about how people blur into their parents, echo them even as they leave them behind. Trying to reckon with his father's passing, Carver also reckons with his own life: his constant struggle to keep his eyes open, to write something good or maybe true, to write something that would outlast him. --Emily White