Broken Record Nostalgia

The opening story of Broken Record Nostalgia by Caleb Michael Sarvis reads like something out of Raymond Carver — or something Carver might have written if he’d been a twenty-something writer applying his craft in the twenty-somethingth century. It’s called “Click Click Harvey,” and it follows the adventures (or lack thereof) of three roommates who track down the man who sideswiped the car that belongs to one of them. Some mayhem ensues but, as is frequently the case in Carver’s no-frills fiction, what’s really front and center is the broken world in which the characters live: cars drive by, televisions churn out hours and hours of meaningless drivel, women and men struggle halfheartedly to understand each other, and lot of drinking takes place. It’s an atmosphere that persists throughout the collection, but with each successive story, Broken Record Nostalgia grows increasingly surreal — and increasingly poignant.

Many of the stories in the collection center on a character named Marcus, whose brother Noah’s suicide has left a hole in the center of his life. Early in the collection, in a story titled “Thoreau in a Phone Booth,” Marcus contemplates committing suicide himself, much to the dismay of Noah’s one-time girlfriend, Arella, who spends a phantasmagorical night trying to keep the seemingly inevitable from happening. Later in the collection, we learn that Noah used to dress in a bear costume and wander through the woods in a vain attempt at escaping the madness of life among humans. In the same story, “Bewildered Idea of Resurrection,” Marcus is engaged in a misguided attempt at rewriting the past a la something akin to Donnie Darko.

Through it all, characters come and go, drifting beyond the boundaries of their own stories to appear in the margins of others, always searching for meaning, always coming up short. Indeed, if there is any meaning to be found in the chaos of life, Sarvis insists throughout Broken Record Nostalgia, it’s meaning we create from the scattered pieces of our lives.

5 comments

  1. Speaking of Carver . . . I recently got around to reading “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” An amazing collection of stories, although I thought I might need a Prozac by the time I was done.

    1. I know what you mean… I love Carver’s prose, but his outlook is so grim. He’s depressing even when he’s trying to be upbeat. I mean, look at “A Small Good Thing.” It’s probably his most optimistic work, ending as it does with one human comforting another, but it begins with the death of a child — as if the price of anything approaching meaningful contact is tragedy. On related note, have you seen Will Ferrell in Everything Must Go? It’s an interesting translation of Carver’s short story, and only slightly “Hollywood-ized.” (And by “slightly,” I mean compared to what I’d expect from the star of Taladega Nights and Anchor Man.) Ferrell turns in a good, tragic performance, and the movie stays pretty close to the spirit of the story.

      1. Indeed, “The Bath” (which I believe was reworked into “A Small Good Thing”) was a struggle for me, seeing as I have two young sons. No wonder the guy drank so much; I’d probably spend my time drunk, too, if my outlook on everything was that depressing. I came away from every story with a sense of isolation. I didn’t see “Everything Must Go,” but seeing as “Why Don’t You Dance?” was actually one of my favorite stories in the collection, I’ll check it out.

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