Where I'm Calling From

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"Where I'm Calling From" is a short story by American author Raymond Carver. The story focuses on the effects of alcohol. Throughout this story Carver experiments with the use of quotation and meditates on the healing factors of storytelling. This story also lends its title to a collection of thirty-seven short stories compiled by Carver Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories.

Plot synopsis[edit]

The main character, an unnamed man, has been dropped off at Frank Martin’s alcohol rehabilitation center by his girlfriend, not to be confused with his wife. After arriving he encounters J.P. who starts telling him his story. J.P. is a drunken chimney sweep whose father-in-law has recently dropped him off at Frank Martin’s as well. He tells the story of how he met his wife, Roxy, one afternoon at his friend’s house. She was a chimney sweep that asked to kiss J.P.’s friend when she was done cleaning his chimney when J.P. asked for a kiss as well. As J.P. continues his story it becomes about how alcohol has ruined his marriage to his wife. The story ends with the main character contemplating calling his wife and then calling his girlfriend. The title comes from the last few lines where he says:

I won't raise my voice. Not even if she starts something. She'll ask me where I'm calling from, and I'll have to tell her. I won't say anything about New Year's resolutions. There’s no way to make a joke out of this. After I talk to her, I’ll call my girlfriend. Maybe I’ll call her first. I’ll just have to hope I don’t get her kid on the line. “Hello, sugar,” I’ll say when she answers. “It’s me."

Use of Alcohol[edit]

Alcohol and the importance of storytelling both play major roles in this story. J.P.’s story as well as many other alcoholic stories is in a tripartite form. It begins with his great life before the drink, the way the drink affected his marriage, and now with his stay at Frank Martin’s it will include his life after the drink. Frank Martin’s rehabilitation center literally becomes the means of the characters' sobriety, and it seems that without it they would not be able to dry out.

Carver uses Jack London as a metaphor in this story as well. Jack London used to live on the other side of the valley in which Frank Martin’s is located. This makes the men realize that since the drink affected someone as talented and strong as London, they cannot handle it either. He also speaks of the half dog and half wolf creature in The Call of the Wild. Just like this animal, the drink makes you half domestic and half wild.

Towards the end of the story Jack London is referred to again in regards to his story "To Build a Fire." This is a metaphor for the main character and for J.P. drying out. Building a fire literally gives hope and is a symbol for life, and whether the man will call his wife or his girlfriend is uncertain, but perhaps he is just trying to build a fire and create hope and life for himself.

There is also thought that the story's structural basis of domestic and wild, or unnatural and natural, is intended to be broken down, suggesting that structuring life via the unnatural (such as taking a second life partner or attending alcohol rehabilitation) suppresses the natural, recreating the subject, I. It is hinted in the story that submission to the unnatural structure is a natural process, and that, as is made particularly evident in the metaphor presented in "To Build a Fire," the natural is always capable of deconstructing the unnatural, requiring reconstruction and further development of the "I." Essentially, the thought provoked is that the natural, or instinctual and the unnatural, or forced structure, are entirely reliant upon one another.