Monday, February 2, 2009

Short Story Mondays: The Clicker at Tips, by Ron Carlson

Source: At The Jim Bridger (2003) by Ron Carlson
Date Read: January 30, 2009 (#3)
Briefly: Matt meets his old friend/old flame Eve, for drinks at a bar called Tips.
Afterthoughts: Two words: Ron Carlson!

You want more than that? Okay. But first: Ron Carlson is so much my all-time favorite writer of short stories, that my very first Worducopia post was about him. So much, in fact, that I've had At The Jim Bridger sitting on my bedside table for months without reading it, because knowing there are Ron Carlson stories I haven't read yet is like having a full bowl of ripe strawberries waiting to be eaten.

But, for the sake of Short Story Mondays, I've eaten the next strawberry (and the next, and the next, because it's impossible to stop at one) and I'm ready to share the bowl with you. And, just like describing the taste of a fresh, in-season Oregon berry to anyone who's never tasted one (are you tired of the metaphor yet? I'll stop), I'll have a hard time explaining what was so great about it. But I'll try.

Except I can't tell you what happens because (a) part of the pleasure of watching the story unfold is figuring out who and what and why for yourself, and I don't want to ruin it for you, and (b) not all that much happens. Stuff happening is not the point. The point, as in many of Carlson's stories, is the relationships between people and how every action and word reflects that relationship and makes it real to the reader. Carlson is the master of distilling a world view down to one moment; a moment down to one motion of the head or the rearranging of glasses on the bartop.

In The Clicker at Tips the reader is an invisible third person at the bar, feeling the tension between this man and woman like an oncoming thunderstorm, without knowing any of the history behind it. Matt, the narrator, fills us in as the evening proceeds. The ending is unexpected but perfect. Go ahead, get yourself some Carlson for your bedside table, and let me know what you think.

Notable Quote: In the corner [of the bar] near us the group of young regulars had circled their chairs around two of the little tables and were making noises about Chicago this, Arizona that, even though it was going to be a one-sided exhibition. There were five or six guys. They leaned back in their chairs and pointed at the screen from time to time, yucking it up. They got to me for all the wrong reasons. I didn't envy them so much as I wanted to correct them, ask them to display some real comaraderie, some real something the way I had with my friends Eve and David and Christopher and Jeff and Deborah, now Debbie, my wife. We had met in magical ways and hung out in the real places like a kind of family over an evening of drinks and appetizers, plate after plate, and we had talked wickedly, tenderly, and we all knew that those hours once a week were our real lives, the center. One thing led to another; there was a sense of things happening. I hated those young guys and their surface lives, a night with the football game. I hated the evening coming on this way, and my life, one good part of it, over.


  1. Okay, how is it that you just told me next to nothing about the story, and yet left me so utterly intrigued?!! Sheesh, and I don't even like strawberries!

  2. I haven't even heard of him, so to found out that he's someone's favourite short story author is quite something. I'll be on the lookout for his stuff.

  3. And what music/song do I need to listen to while reading Ron Carlson?

  4. can we made them raspberries instead of strawberries? ;-)

    I can't say that I have heard of Carlson before but now will have to search him out...thanks, I really need more books. lol

  5. double posting just to say that I just noticed that I have one of Carlson's books, Five Skies, in my TBR pile and saw that you reviewed it once. I will have to try his short stories.

  6. Checking in from out of town. :-)

    Caite, you should read Five Skies, too. And the short stories.

    Care, Hmmm, what to listen to while reading Carlson...I'll think on that some more but I'm leaning in the direction of James Taylor. Paul Simon. Crosby, Stills & Nash.

  7. This sounds really great, Ali. I love your reviews and music :)
    I love your quote, "knowing there are Ron Carlson stories I haven't read yet is like having a full bowl of ripe strawberries waiting to be eaten." How great does that sound! Ron on my TBR list :)

    Happy Reading and Singing!