In my first day of creative writing class back in the 80’s, my professor, the poet Harry Hume, sat down and read aloud a short story called “Why Don’t You Dance?” This introduction to Raymond Carver was a profound experience. Carver’s story cut to the bone. The story was nothing more than a sketch, but it resonated deeply. The three characters were described simply as the man, the boy and the girl. Carver’s prose didn’t scream “look at me.” His prose did not get in the way.
In the story, an unnamed man has placed his furniture and belongings in his driveway. A young couple shows up thinking they’ve stumbled onto a yard sale. The interaction between the three characters is brief but startling. At the end of the story, the girl, haunted by the experience, tries to explain the incident to friends but finds she can’t and eventually “she quits trying.” We never learn what domestic turmoil led the man to place his belongings out in the driveway. The backstory is left to our imagination. In my opinion, not knowing made this story more powerful.
Now, a movie called “Everything Must Go” has been made based on “Why Don’t You Dance?” Funny man Will Ferrell plays the lead role. I find it hard to believe a full length film can be made from such a short sketch of a man’s story.
Robert Altman made the movie Short Cuts, intertwining several Carver stories into a film. This proved to be a challenge even for the great director. Other short stories have been translated to the screen. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on a Fitzgerald short story comes to mind, though that short story covers the years of a man’s life.
“Why Don’t You Dance?” provides a different type of challenge. The original story is so spare. The screenplay will be extensively coloring in between the lines. The trailer looks intriguing and I’m sure I’ll see the movie. I just hope the movie won’t destroy the mystery and will be true to the spirit of Carver.