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Well said. _Understanding Raymond Carver_ is the kind of thin textbook you would expect to read in an undergraduate Figures of Literature class at a public liberal arts college. Saltzman only scratches the surface of literary criticism and interpretation regarding Carver, but adequately. For students: you will find decent quotes to support your research papers. For nonacademic readers: you will find brief critical analyses of your favorite stories.
Here's an illustrative section:
"Because Carver's locations are unexceptional, they are deceptively lulling, seeming immune to eventfulness; yet all the while, in familiar homes and neighborhoods, acts of brinkmanship regularly take place. What, for example, could be less precipitous than a waitress serving a customer? Yet in 'Fat' the event looms monumentally in her consciousness. Breathless and repetitive, the narrator anxiously tries to 'sell' her friend on the significance of the tale of her incredibly fat customer as if she had just been implicated in some vague parable. However, she cannot pin down the reason its having unsettled her so: 'Now that's part of it. I think that is really part of it.' 'I know now I was after something. But I don't know what.' 'Waiting for what? I'd like to know.' "
"Perhaps it is the surprising dignity and pleasantness of the fat man that is so remarkable -- one can easily surmise what sort of course [sic] treatment she is accustomed to -- and that causes her to defend him against the rude remarks of her co-workers. Perhaps his use of the royal 'we' to refer to himself, as though he needed to measure up verbally to his size, makes her realize how dwarfed and submissive she has been. Or perhaps the jokes about her being 'sweet' on him lead her to evaluate her relationship with Rudy, who is similarly incapable of appreciating feelings she can hardly approximate. (During their lovemaking, she imagines herself to be so astonishingly fat that Rudy disappears within her bulk.) Her inarticulateness stakes out the limits of her growth of consciousness. Significantly, although she believes her life will change -- the meeting with the mysterious fat man surely heralds it -- she characterizes herself as passive, waiting for a transformation. 'Fat' concludes with the narrator prepared for something different but at a loss as to what that 'something' could be or how she would go about initiating it. Insight extends no further than dissatisfaction."
Saltzman provides an overview of Carver's style and themes; has a chapter for each of the four major collections (_Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?_, _Furious Seasons_, _What We Talk About When We Talk About Love_, and _Cathedral_); and one for selected poems. His conclusion "feels" dated (the text was published in 1988), but is otherwise adequate.
Overall, this is a good text, worth having if you are a dedicated Carver reader.