“I was a big fan of Paul Kelly, the legendary Australian singer and songwriter, at that time; his new album, So Much Water So Close to Home, had just been released. I used to sit around and listen to that record over and over again.”
One track in particular rendered the fledgling writer and musician spellbound. Paul Kelly’s “Everything’s Turning to White” is a musical reinvention of Carver’s 1977 short story “So Much Water So Close to Home”, a grim first-person narrative centered on four fishing buddies who discover the nude corpse of a young woman floating facedown in the Naches River. The callous disregard that the four friends display in reaction to their gruesome discovery – “decent men, family men who take care of their jobs”, Carver writes – sends the narrator into a harrowing emotional tailspin.
A careful reading of the album liner notes revealed the source material for Kelly’s song, compelling Vlautin to rush out to the nearest bookstore and buy a copy of Where I’m Calling From. He devoured the book immediately. Carver’s lean and minimalist approach to prose and poetry, coupled with the brutal narrative candor of a punishing and unforgiving God, provoked a visceral response.
“Carver is the first writer who made sense to me,” says Vlautin, whose own prose and story-driven lyrics are deservedly compared to Carver’s. “The pieces didn’t even seem like stories, they seemed like a guy bleeding on the page in the middle of a nervous breakdown. The person writing it could have been my boss or a mechanic or my mom’s boyfriend. The stories weren’t intimidating, they weren’t using words or situations I was unfamiliar with. It was like I was looking into lives I knew something about. I didn’t even notice the artistry behind Carver’s work because I was just floored by the heart and the guts right there on the page. It really changed my life.”