Carver’s Dance in the Driveway

Out of all the stories listed on One Story Magazine’s List of their top ten favorite short stories, and the twenty-six stories on their “long list,” Raymond Carver’s Why Don’t You Dance? means the most to me. One Story opted to place Dance on the long list, but having read the story dozens of times through the years, this is definitely on my short list.

In my first day of creative writing class back in the 80’s, my professor, the poet Harry Hume, sat down and read aloud this short story. This introduction to Raymond Carver was a profound experience. Sitting in the classroom that day, excited about taking my first Creative Writing class, the reading of this story resonated deeply. Carver’s story cut to the bone. The story was nothing more than a sketch. The three characters were described simply as the man, the boy and the girl. Carver’s prose didn’t scream “look at me.” His prose did not get in the way.

In the story, an unnamed man has placed his furniture and belongings in his driveway. A young couple shows up thinking they’ve stumbled onto a yard sale. The interaction between the three characters is brief but startling. At the end of the story, the girl, haunted by the experience, tries to explain the incident to friends but finds she can’t and eventually “she quits trying.”

So much was left unsaid. I can picture the story would make a great graphic novel. Every frame is in the current moment. We never learn what domestic turmoil led the man to place his belongings out in the driveway. The backstory is left to our imagination. In my opinion, not knowing made this story more powerful.

Note: I have not seen the new movie, Everything Must Go, which was inspired by the short story. I will eventually!

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