The Fate of Frozen Men

Increasingly, it seems that some men are stuck. Frozen, even.

Sebastian Mader says that writer Raymond Carver’s talent for vivid symbolism is what led him to base the latest installment of our Adapted series on the writer’s short story “Preservation,which was published as part of Carver’s 1983 collection, Cathedral. “Carver writes about the collapse of human relationships,” explains Mader, a photographer and director known for his work in high-end fashion and beauty. “Some of his stories take place at the moment things fall apart; others, after the damage has been done, while the shock waves are still reverberating.”

Carver’s narrative concerns the husband of a young woman named Sandy after he loses his job. Unable to imagine a future or any sort of forward movement for himself, Sandy’s husband spends months sprawled out on the living room couch, watching TV and reading the same passage in the same book over and over and over again. Then the couple’s refrigerator stops functioning, and all hell sort of breaks loose.

"Happy Valentine's Day," he said to Sandy and put a heart-shaped box of candy and a bottle of Jim Beam on the kitchen table. He took off his cap and laid that on the table, too. "I got canned today. Hey, what do you think's going to happen to us now?"

Now and then he looked through magazines she brought home from the grocery store; and every so often she came in to find him looking at this big book she'd got as a bonus for joining a book club—something called Mysteries of the Past. He held the book in front of him with both hands, his head inclined over the pages, as if he were being drawn in by what he was reading. But after a while she noticed that he didn't seem to be making any progress in it; he still seemed to be at about the same place—somewhere around chapter two, she guessed. 

Sandy picked it up once and opened it to his place. There she read about a man who had been discovered after spending 2,000 years in a peat bog in the Netherlands. 

She opened the door to the freezer compartment. An awful smell puffed out at her that made her want to gag. The pork chops had thawed, too. Everything had thawed, including some more fish sticks, a package of Steak-ums, and two Chef Sammy Chinese food dinners.

He moved his plate from one hand to the other. But he kept standing there. It was then she saw puddles of water on the table. She heard water, too. It was dripping off the table and onto the linoleum.

She looked down at her husband's bare feet. She stared at his feet next to the pool of water. She knew she'd never again in her life see anything so unusual.

“Preservation" from Cathedral by Raymond Carver, copyright © 1981, 1982, 1983 by Tess Gallagher. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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