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A Review of Raymond Carver’s “Fat”

Black and white picture of the author.

The beauty of the short story is that it is short. If you want some fantasy, fiction, drama, suspense, or action but don’t have the time, then the short story is actually perfect. You can often read them in one sitting. Collections of short stories are very rare in popular fiction. If an author writes short stories, regardless of how good the short stories might be, it is usually the novels that get the most attention. If you need examples, then Truman Capote, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinua Achebe, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro… All of these famous authors have written short stories, yet they are often forgotten/left to the academics.

Some people might think that due to the length of a short story that it must be easy to write. Sometimes they are only 1-2,000 words long, yet they are the most challenging works of art I have ever seen and laboured over. The short story is not easy to craft. Every word, detail, movement described has to be perfectly placed and timed. You don’t have 80,000 words to say what you want to say. Writers of short stories have my utmost respect because they not only create something beautiful, but to achieve that beauty is an extremely arduous task.

The first author that I would like to talk about is American short story writer, Raymond Carver. He was born in May 1938 and died from lung cancer at the age of 50 in August 1988. Many writers, myself included, think of him as one of the greats when it comes to short stories. He is famous for his raw writing style. It is something that I felt extremely connected to, the first time I read his work. His style has been put under the categories of minimalism and dirty realism. Carver writes like a camera takes photos; clear, brutally honest, and of the moment. In a world filled with instagram photo filters, photoshop, distortions of reality and beauty, Carver is still a reminder of the small, simple, imperfect moments in life. Otherwise known as beauty.

I wanted to share with you the first short story I ever read by Carver, and probably one of the first short stories I ever read as an adult, called Fat. When I was in university a required reading list forced me to buy The Art of the Tale: An international anthology of short stories. It is a tomb of a book and has short stories from ever corner of the globe. if you’re looking for a place to start with short stories then this is a great place.

Fat is a conversation between the storyteller and their friend Rita. The narrator tells Rita about serving a fat man in the restaurant they work in. The two talk about the encounter in the restaurant, about the fat man’s size, and in particular the fat man’s fingers, “long, thick, creamy fingers” (197).

The man in the restaurant is reduced to his weight, and well… his fat. Rather than a person, he becomes fat, the embodiment of fat. Carver wrote Fat in a collection of stories that were published in 1976. A time when fat-shaming and body policing probably happened, but were never spoken about like they are today. The fat man’s name is never learned. His fatness reminds other people in the story of the fat people they once knew and Carver highlights a pattern with these memories: the people can only remember the fat, not the person.

Self control, body image, fat, diets, weight, healthy, raw, clean eating, fat burning, beach body, shame, depression, abs of steel dominate our world. I hope that you read Carver’s story, Fat and I hope that it reminds you that you are never just your fat, nor should you judge some based on that.

Are you a fan of Raymond Carver? What is your favourite short story? As always, share the reading love.

2 thoughts on “A Review of Raymond Carver’s “Fat”

  1. I have vivid recollections of reading ‘Fat’ at University too. I’m actually currently reading ‘This is How You Lose Her’ by Junot Díaz, which is a collection of short stories about, well, break ups. It’s all right. As far as short stories go, I love Tim Winton’s ‘The Turning’. Every page is a delight to read. That being said, you have my encouragement in reviewing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short stories as soon as possible!

    • “Fat” is about size–the size of human dignity. The “fat man” in the story is kind, decent, articulate, and sensitive. The unnamed narrator discovers the right to such dignity from the fat man because they both share the dismissal of their own dignity (see Rudy’s rape of the narrator). Yes, control (and lack of it) is also a central theme, but the universal right to be accepted and respected is what rings so profoundly true in this story.