Raymond Carver, Birdman and the American Dream

I never cared for Raymond Carver.

I can’t really explain why, but as a younger man I was required to read Cathedral (held by many to be his best work) for purely academic purposes. Perhaps that is why I didn’t care for the story. Probably because someone in a position of authority (in this case a professor) told me that I had to read it. I did as instructed. I even wrote a report on the piece. I don’t recall what grade I received on that particular report, but as a solid A/B student in college it is safe to say that it was a decent grade.

Good grade or no, I didn’t care for Carver. I read that he had a drinking problem (hell what literary great didn’t). I read that he died tragically at too young an age. Not of that phased me. I still dismissed him as run of the mill.

That changed this year when I saw Birdman. Now I know what you are thinking. Birdman was not written by Raymond Carver. Only the short story that Michael Keaton’s character has adapted into play (What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) was actually written by Carver. And you are right. But the basis of this film digs much deeper than the story of a washed up actor who is trying to make a comeback on Broadway.

While Birdman itself was not written by Carver, Birdman does not work without Carver. It cannot work without Carver. This film could not work without Carver’s short story serving as the foundation for the entire theme of the movie.

I loved Birdman. I think Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone should all win in their respective Oscar categories. I also think the director should win for Best Director and that it should be named Best Picture.

It won’t be though. American Sniper will steal a number of awards from it. As might The Imitation Game and Selma.

That will be a shame.

Even if Birdman wins nothing during the Academy Awards it has accomplished at least one thing: it has given this reader (and many others) and new appreciation of the work of Raymond Carver.

If Carver were still alive today, I would write him a letter apologizing for giving up on his work when I was in college. Or perhaps he would have a Twitter account (I know some of you just cringed) so perhaps my apology could be sent in the form of a “tweet.”

In any case, I will be rereading Cathedral as well as several other Raymond Carver short stories.

I hope that many of you reading this article will do the same.

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