A Small, Good Thing, by Raymond Carver

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The short story, "A Small, Good Thing" by Raymond Carver tells of two American parents dealing with their son's hospitalization and death as the result of a hit-and-run car accident. The insensitive actions of their local baker add to their anger and confusion, yet by the end of the story, leave them with a sense of optimism and strength. With such content, Carver runs the risk of coming across as sentimental; however, this is not the case, and the anguish of the parents and their shock at the situation is expressed with dignity and understatement. It is a story with a broad appeal: the simple prose makes it accessible to a wide audience, while the complex themes and issues make it appealing to the educated reader. Written in Carver's characteristically minimalist style, the story poignantly evokes not only the trauma of the death of a child, but also the breakdown of communication and empathy in society. The plain and direct narrative style suits the content, conveying the lack of communication that is central to the narrative - between the parents, between the hospital staff, and with the baker. Critically, it is generally considered one of Carver's strongest short stories. It is a tale of isolation and of grief, but also of hope, and, with its fluid, pared-down style, clearly demonstrates why Carver is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of the late 20th century.

On the surface, the story of A Small, Good Thing is simple and universal. Thirty-three-year-old Ann Weiss orders a cake for her son's Scotty's eighth birthday and is a little put off by the baker's cold attitude - "(he) was not jolly. There were no pleasantries between them, just the minimum exchange of words, the necessary information." However, she soo...

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...- emotional yet not melodramatic; sparsely written yet still complex; a human story which explores the arbitrary nature of fate. The writing style is fresh and invigorating; the characters well-drawn, the narrative driving, the themes thought-provoking. While some readers are likely to be frustrated by the limited exposition and the abruptness of the actions, most could be expected to find it well worth their attention. A Small, Good Thing has become a minimalist classic, and a close reading should clearly demonstrate why Carver is regarded as one of the strongest short-story writers in recent times.


Clarke, Graham. "Investing the Glimpse: Raymond Carver and the Syntax of Silence." The New American Writing: Essays on American Literature Since 1970. Ed. Graham Clarke. New York: St. Martin's, 1990. 99-122.

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