Elephant (stories)

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First edition (publ. Collins Harvill)

Elephant is a collection of short stories by American writer Raymond Carver published in Great Britain, 1988. The stories in the collection were first published in the U.S. in Where I'm Calling From: New & Selected Stories (1988).


The collection contains the following stories:


The narrator and Jill find each other after failed marriages. Soon after they set up a household, their comfortable life is disrupted by the arrival of the narrator's seventy-year-old mother. She is constantly on the move, going from one place to another, hoping to find a good life, but is always disappointed by what she encounters. When she moves to her son's community, she dislikes everything about it. No sooner does she move into her quarters then she packs her possessions into boxes (the story's title) in preparation to return to California. A half year passes before she finally departs. During this time, Jill's easy going response to the mother's disruptive presence keeps the narrator and Jill's relationship on even keel. When the mother finally heads back to California in her packed car, both she and her son realize that they are not likely to see each other again.

Whoever Was Using This Bed[edit]

A 3:00 am phone call wakes the narrator and his wife, Iris, from a deep sleep. When the narrator answers the phone, a woman's voice asks to speak to "Bud." The narrator tells the woman she has a wrong number and hangs up. But she persistently calls back, forcing him to take the phone off the hook. Once back in bed, Iris starts chain smoking and engages the narrator in conversation. The narrator desperately wants to go back to sleep, but he gets caught up in Iris's ruminations. He begins chain smoking as well. Iris talks about the dream the phone call interrupted. She doesn't remember the details, but she recalls that the dream did not include the narrator, which upsets him. As the night moves on, the narrator is very much aware of the passage of time, and hopes to be able to catch some sleep before daybreak, when he needs to get up to go to work. But he is engaged in the chat with his wife. Ultimately, the conversation focuses on whether one partner will "pull the plug" on the other if either were mortally incapacitated. Iris wants the narrator to pull the plug, but after some thought, the narrator asks Iris to let the doctors do what they can do. Don't pull the plug. At daybreak, the narrator gets up and goes to work. Throughout the day he reflects on his conversation with Iris and on his fatigue. That night, the phone rings and the familiar woman's voice asks for "Bud." While the narrator is holding the phone, Iris pulls the plug—and disconnects the phone.


The narrator has achieved a measure of public recognition as a writer. While on the road, he drops by his ex-wife's house unannounced. It has been four years since they last met. When she sees him, she launches into a non-stop soliloquy, enumerating her hurts and anger at his betrayal. Through her onslaught, it is clear that she cared dearly for him and the lost life they built together. After her diatribe dies down, the narrator drops to his knees before her, holding the hem of her dress. She becomes self-conscious, then worries that her new husband will return home and find them together. She indicates that the reason he visited her was to gain new material for his stories. She asks him to leave. He departs.


In the middle of the night, the narrator reflects on his relations with three women: his current wife, Vicky; his ex-wife, Molly; and the neighbor with whom he is having a sexual affair, Amanda. He looks out his window and sees the lights on at Amanda's house and wonders what she is doing. After Amanda's husband Oliver discovered her affair with the narrator, he left the house, giving Amanda an ultimatum to move out within a week. Vicky also knows of the affair and is now snubbing him. It is not clear how their relationship will end or what kind of a future relationship he will have with Amanda. He reflects on his treatment of his ex-wife, Molly. She loved him unconditionally. When he left her for Vicky, she had a breakdown and was sent to a mental institution. The narrator had trouble dealing with Molly's breakdown—while attending a drinking party at an artist friend's house (Alfredo), he began to shake uncontrollably. The friend said he would fix him a menudo, a Latino stew made of tripe, sausage, onions, tomatoes, chili powder, and other ingredients. The menudo would calm him down. But the narrator fell asleep before the menudo was ready and as a consequence he never sampled it. As the narrator reflects on his life with the three women, dawn arrives. Looking outside, he sees leaves scattered on his lawn. He dresses, grabs a rake and rakes and bags the leaves on his lawn. Then he begins raking a neighbor's lawn, and the story ends.


Blackbird Pie[edit]