In previous collections, the short stories were very short, but in Cathedral, Carver expands his scope and writes stories that feel fuller than their predecessors. There is more time devoted to getting in the heads of the characters, and exploring how they interact with the world and those around them. For example, in ‘Vitamins’, the complex relationships between Patti, the owner of a business selling vitamins, Sheila and Donna, two of her employees, and her unnamed husband is looked at in a level of detail that would not be possible in a shorter story. The greater length also makes the stories more memorable, since the reader has more time to absorb and process their details.
What Raymond Carver does in Cathedral, as indeed he does in all his stories, is bring poetry to the ordinary. On a surface level, not much seems to actually happen, but underneath is a whole world of insecurity, violence, desire, and conflicted emotion. In his hands, the most innocuous of events can become seismic shifts in a person’s life, identity, or relationships. The reason why he does this is because it’s true – it’s the way life operates. Something than can seem insignificant to the average observer can be hugely important to the person involved. He demonstrates again and again that there is not only more to a person than what is seen on the outside, but that the tragedy is that the outside is the only part we can really understand. His skill at showing this is the reason why his stories are still read and enjoyed today.
Review by Charlie Alcock