I’m afraid I’ve gotten caught up in close-reading this story as a literary critique rather than focusing mainly on the aspect as a lesson in writing so I thought I’d end this series with that alone.
Written in first person point of view, we find a narrator who I would consider as semi-reliable. He appears to be telling his honest reactions and yet at the beginning we feel he is holding back, glossing over. We tell more about his character by gauging his sentence structure and language use.
The focus of this story is change in character–there’s no question about the fact that he does. The story is about a man with prejudice, jealousy, self-pity, feelings of exclusion, and this switches to a man whose world opens up to him by the very man (Robert) who he is guarding himself against.
The plot is step by step with backstory given as a basis of his perceptions–even though we do not learn much about the narrator’s past, we learn about him through his telling of his wife’s past along with Robert’s.
There are plot points of conflict in the upcoming visit, the visit itself which includes several minor battles of control–the conversation with his wife, the recalled tapes, the car in the driveway and his wife laughing, the seating arrangement, the drinks, the meal, the smoking of marijuana, the TV program, the breaking down of borders until the two men are seated next to each other on the floor, drawing at the coffee table. The movement of the characters mimics the movement of mental change, where they draw (no pun intended) closer together.
Themes include building (cathedrals/relationships), the manner of being unnamed, the seeing versus unseeing (who is blind, after all?), prejudice and understanding. I would add borders to this list, and space as each character finds himself within and is willing to breach.
Carver’s use of language is sublime. The sentence structure gives us a good idea of the narrator’s style of thinking. There is the conflict between the two men that the narrator reveals in a round-about manner, but despite his graciousness to his guest, Robert picks up on it and reaches out to him to try to overcome it. Carver selects his details very carefully in making just about every word move the narrative towards its ultimate outcome.
I’d also mentioned the metafiction; in the difficulty the narrator has in explaining the cathedral with words.
That’s it. I’m tired of it now.