Short story: “Why Don’t You Dance?”

by look i have opinions

“Why Don’t You Dance?”, by Raymond Carver

1,617 words

Appeared in Quarterly West in 1978 and The Paris Review in 1981; collected in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories; reprinted in Zoetrope: All-Story in spring 2011 (Volume 15, No. 1); found online here and here and also as a PDF

Marilynne Robinson described the dance scene this way: “The intimacy of marriage is voided, exposed, re-enacted and distanced, all at once. The moment may be said to suggest memory, art, the astonishing bond of intimacy among a world of strangers, the ghostliness of one’s attachment to any place or relationship.”

It does suggest memory and art to me. Somehow, the telling of the story ends up belonging to the young woman (I mean girl):

She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying.

She’s gotten an early glimpse of how bad life can get, and storytelling (clumsy, inarticulate storytelling) is the only response she can come up with.

The last line seems to indicate that she fails to achieve catharsis. I can’t tell if she fails because it’s too terrible or because she’s a bad storyteller. Or possibly because she doesn’t have anyone who intuits the significance of the “yard sale” the way she does. Maybe the real ending implied here is the failure of her relationship with the boy.

The story seems to need all its characters to be hopelessly inarticulate. I think that’s a common technique of Carver’s. Inarticulacy is poignant, and it compels the reader to say what the characters can’t.

The economy and inevitability of this piece are daunting.

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