What's All This Then?
What's All This Then?
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Field-Tested by Jason Arber
in Times Square in New York City, New York
There’s a kind of magic that happens when your choice of holiday reading reaches a state of synchronicity with your surroundings. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. But in either case, the air seems to hum with the vibration of familiarity.
I love Raymond Carver. He’s a writer of such incredible succinctness; not a single word is unnecessary or wasted. In a few sentences, or a brief snatch of dialogue, he can convey a lifetime’s sadness or longing for his small town American characters. And as such, his writing is suited to the format of the short story. I have all of his collections of short stories and poems, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Cathedral, In a Marine Light. My favourite book is the slim volume entitled Elephant and Other Stories, which is the perfect introduction to his world of failed relationships and bitterness.
Elephant was his last book, which was published a year before his death from cancer in 1988. He was 50 and had led a turbulent life, which included being hospitalized several times for acute alcoholism.
His life was echoed in his writing, but it wasn’t entirely gloomy. His words were often written through a smile of gritted teeth, and occasionally absurdity would filter through, bringing a welcome flash of dark humour. I’ve lent the book out to several friends who never returned it, and lost it occasionally on my many house moves, so I think I must have bought the book three or four times. I never tire of the stories, and it’s usually included somewhere in my luggage when I go on holiday.
In the mid-nineties, I visited New York fairly frequently, as my then girlfriend lived in Syosset, Long Island, and I would book cheap, seedy hotels around Times Square so that we could hook up away from her parents. Sadly, the relationship was doomed, and the stress of traveling halfway around the world only to argue, took its inevitable toll. On many trips to New York, my girlfriend would storm off and I’d be left for days on end in my hotel room. Not having the urge to explore the amazing city I was alone in, I’d lie on the bed reading what seemed to be a kind of bizarre reflection of my relationship. After a few days, there’d be a knock at the door and we’d sort of make up, sometimes only hours before I had to go back home to London. I think we both knew that I’d come back to New York and repeat the whole thing again before the flame finally went out, and that I’d end up reading my battered, well-traveled copy of Elephant in a dank hotel room. It’s not a typical holiday story, but then, it’s not a typical holiday book.
Jason Arber is a writer and designer living in London. He is the director and head of production at the production company Wyld Stallyons.
Read the next Field Test by Rosecrans Baldwin