Raymond Carver writes stories about real life situations and the people involved in them. These stories are not overly exciting or imaginative, but they do provide an insight of the mundane pattern of everyday life. Plain and simple situations are given unexpected twists without becoming unrealistic or unbelievable. “Tell the women we’re going” is extremely unexpected and is in fact quite shocking when Jerry strikes the two girls with the rock.
This is the effect Carver was trying to achieve- the shock of real life and that these things happen is perhaps a bit of a “wake-up call” for some people and this is probably one of the places Carver earned his “dirty realist” tag- from people who could not accept his frank reckoning of human life. Carver was not afraid to show the world as it is- unglamorous, strange and twisted. None of the stories are too extreme or melodramatic, but all are relate to the routine world of everyday life.
He has an unbiased view on the world and is not trying to turn life into something it is not. He doesn’t try to only portray good or bad points and this makes the stories ever more realistic. An example of this is the story “They’re Not Your Husband”, in which although the husband, Earl, completely downgrades his wife, there is real understanding in the wife, Doreen. The stories do not stick to an extreme of good or bad, they show both.
Even thought the stories are not about the glamorous side of life, this doesn’t make them uninteresting- if anything it draws the reader in more; the curiosity becoming more intense as the reader relates the stories to his or her own situation. This is where Carver picked up his “dirty realist” “blue collar” label- by simply showing what really goes on, instead of trying to hide the bad points of life like a lot of previous writers. It is likely he picked up inspiration from previous short story writers, such as Hemingway, Joyce, Kafka and Chekhov.
Chekhov’s “Grief” can be related to Carver’s “They’re not your husband”. Both stories are about husbands who treat their wives badly and their ignorance leads to the downfall of their wives. The difference is the wife in “Grief” dies, and the wife in “They’re not your husband” dies. However, both go through a period of difficulty, and in “Grief” this leads to the death of the wife. Both show realistic, comparable situations, even though they are set in different times and places.