Read Short Cuts Online

Authors: Raymond Carver

Short Cuts



Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?

Furious Seasons and Other Stories

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love


Where I’m Calling From


Near Klamath

Winter Insomnia

At Night the Salmon Move

Where Water Comes Together with Other Water


A New Path to the Waterfall


Fires: Essays, Poems, and Stories


Short Cuts: Selected Stories

Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose

All of Us: The Collected Poems


Copyright © 1993 by Tess Gallagher

Introduction copyright © 1993 by Robert Altman

All rights reserved. First published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Ltd., Toronto, in 1993.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Contemporaries and colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Atlantic Monthly Press for permission to reprint the poem “Lemonade” from
A New Path to the Waterfall
by Raymond Carver, copyright © 1989 by Tess Gallagher. Used with permission of Atlantic Monthly Press.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Carver, Raymond.
Short cuts: selected stories / Raymond Carver.
p. cm—(Vintage contemporaries original)
I. Title.
PS3553.A7894S48 1993
813´.54—dc20 93-19747

Vintage Books Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-0-679-74864-9
eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-97056-0

Cover design by Buchanan-Smith LLC
Cover photograph © Todd Hido / Edge Reps


Collaborating with Carver

made poetry out of the prosaic. One critic wrote that he “revealed the strangeness concealed behind the banal,” but what he really did was capture the wonderful idiosyncrasies of human behavior, the idiosyncrasies that exist amid the randomness of life’s experiences. And human behavior, filled with all its mystery and inspiration, has always fascinated me.

I look at all of Carver’s work as just one story, for his stories are all occurrences, all about things that just happen to people and cause their lives to take a turn. Maybe the bottom falls out. Maybe they have a near-miss with disaster. Maybe they just have to go on, knowing things they don’t really want to know about one another. They’re more about what you don’t know rather than what you do know, and the reader fills in the gaps, while recognizing the undercurrents.

In formulating the mosaic of the film
Short Cuts
, which is based on these nine stories and the poem “Lemonade,” I’ve tried to do the same thing – to give the audience one look. But the film could go on for ever, because it’s like life – lifting the roof off the Weathers’ home and seeing Stormy decimate his furniture with a skillsaw, then lifting off another roof, the Kaisers’, or the Wymans’, or the Shepherds’, and seeing some different behavior.

We’ve taken liberties with Carver’s work: characters have crossed over from one story to another; they connect by
various linking devices; names may have changed. And though some purists and Carver fans may be upset, this film has been a serious collaboration between the actors, my co-writer Frank Barhydt, and the Carver material in this collection.

When I first spoke to the poet Tess Gallagher, Ray’s widow, about wanting to make this film, I told her I wasn’t going to be pristine in my approach to Carver and that the stories were going to be scrambled. She instinctively recognized and encouraged this, and said Ray was an admirer of
, that he liked the helplessness of those characters and their ability to manage nevertheless. She also knew that artists in different fields must use their own skills and vision to do their work. Cinematic equivalents of literary material manifest themselves in unexpected ways.

Through the years of writing, shaping and planning
Short Cuts
, through the myriad financial dealings and turnarounds, Tess and I had numerous discussions and conducted a steady correspondence. The way she received information changed my attitude about things, so I feel I’ve had discussions with Ray through Tess. She’s been a real contributor to the film.

I read all of Ray’s writings, filtering him through my own process. The film is made of little pieces of his work that form sections of scenes and characters out of the most basic elements of Ray’s creations – new but
new. Tess and Zoe Trainer, the emotionally displaced mother and daughter played by Annie Ross and Lori Singer, provide the musical bridges in the film – Annie’s jazz and Lori’s cello. They are characters Frank Barhydt and I invented, but Tess Gallagher felt they were consistent with Ray’s characters and could have come out of his story “Vitamins.”

Raymond Carver’s view of the world, and probably my own, may be termed dark by some. We’re connected by similar attitudes about the arbitrary nature of luck in the scheme of things – the Finnegans’ child being hit by a car
in “A Small, Good Thing”; the Kanes’ marriage upheaval resulting from a body being discovered during a fishing trip in “So Much Water So Close to Home.”

Somebody wins the lottery. The same day, that person’s sister gets killed by a brick falling off a building in Seattle. Those are both the same thing. The lottery was won both ways. The odds of either happening are very much against you and yet they both happened. One got killed and the other got rich; it’s the same action.

One of the reasons we transposed the settings from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California was that we wanted to place the action in a vast suburban setting so that it would be fortuitous for the characters to meet. There were logistical considerations as well, but we wanted the linkages to be accidental. The setting is untapped Los Angeles, which is also Carver country, not Hollywood or Beverly Hills – but Downey, Watts, Compton, Pomona, Glendale – American suburbia, the names you hear about on the freeway reports.

We have twenty-two principal actors in the cast – Anne Archer, Bruce Davison, Robert Downey Jr., Peter Gallagher, Buck Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Huey Lewis, Lyle Lovett, Andie MacDowell, Frances McDormand, Matthew Modine, Julianne Moore, Chris Penn, Tim Robbins, Annie Ross, Lori Singer, Madeleine Stowe, Lili Taylor, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits and Fred Ward – and they brought things to this film I wouldn’t have dreamed of, thickening it, enriching it. Part of this I have to attribute to the foundation of
Short Cuts
– the Carver writings.

Only three or four of these actors ever appeared together in the film because each week we began another story, with another family. But we gave the cast all of the original stories, and many went on to read more of Ray’s work. The first family we filmed were the Piggotts, Earl and Doreen, played by Tom Waits and Lily Tomlin, in their trailer park and at
Johnnie’s Broiler, a classic California coffee shop where Doreen waitresses. Their work was so superb that I thought I’d be in trouble, but all of the actors stepped up to that level, going beyond or sideways from my expectations, taking over and redefining their roles.

The characters do a lot of storytelling in the film, telling little stories about their lives. Many of them are Carver stories or paraphrases of Carver stories or inspired by Carver stories, so we always tried to stay as close as possible to his world, given film’s collaborative imperative.

The actors also realized that the particulars these Carver people are talking about aren’t the main thing. The elements seemed flexible. They could be talking about anything. Which is not to say the language isn’t important, but its subject doesn’t have to be X. Y or Z. It could be Q or P or H.

It’s a matter of who these people are that determines how they respond to what they’re saying. It’s not what they’re saying that causes the scene to happen, but the fact that these characters are playing the scene. So whether they’re talking about how to make a peanut butter sandwich or how to murder their neighbor, the content isn’t as significant as what these characters feel and do in the situation, as they develop.

Writing and directing are both acts of discovery. In the end, the film is there and the stories are there and one hopes there is a fruitful interaction. Yet in directing
Short Cuts
, certain things came straight out of my own sensibility, which has its differences, and this is as it should be. I know Ray Carver would have understood that I had to go beyond just paying tribute. Something new happened in the film, and maybe that’s the truest form of respect.

But it all began here. I was a reader turning these pages. Trying on these lives.


New York City, 1993


were a happy couple. But now and then they felt they alone among their circle had been passed by somehow, leaving Bill to attend to his bookkeeping duties and Arlene occupied with secretarial chores. They talked about it sometimes, mostly in comparison with the lives of their neighbors, Harriet and Jim Stone. It seemed to the Millers that the Stones lived a fuller and brighter life. The Stones were always going out for dinner, or entertaining at home, or traveling about the country somewhere in connection with Jim’s work.

The Stones lived across the hall from the Millers. Jim was a salesman for a machine-parts firm and often managed to combine business with pleasure trips, and on this occasion the Stones would be away for ten days, first to Cheyenne, then on to St. Louis to visit relatives. In their absence, the Millers would look after the Stones’ apartment, feed Kitty, and water the plants.

Bill and Jim shook hands beside the car. Harriet and Arlene held each other by the elbows and kissed lightly on the lips.

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