The narrator is an alcoholic who has signed himself into a "drying-out facility." He has been there before and tries to reassure his companion, J.P., that their unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will improve. J.P. likes to talk and the narrator encourages him to do so because he would rather listen to J.P.'s stories than think about his own predicament. After hearing about J.P.'s marriage--infatuation, love, children, drinking, fighting ("who knows why we do what we do?")--the narrator is able to tell his own story.

His story includes a wife with whom he was once happy but from whom he is now estranged, and a girlfriend who has received a cancer diagnosis. Each woman had brought him to the drying-out facility, at each separate occasion. "Part of me wanted help. But there was another part." The narrator's ambivalence extends to his relationship with these two women. He can't face his girlfriend's illness or her son, and he knows that if he calls his wife she will ask him "where I'm calling from" and he will have to explain.


In this work, alcoholism is essentially inexplicable and the people who suffer from it make no excuses. The present tense narration emphasizes the "one day at a time" philosophy of rehabilitation; at the same time, the two main characters grope to resume distant, happier lives. As they struggle with physical symptoms of withdrawal, they try to maintain their dignity. Whereas J.P. reunites with his wife, the narrator's future is more uncertain. He knows he is like the Jack London character who must get a fire going to avoid freezing to death.

The tone of this tale is neither romantic nor maudlin. Its people are not tragic figures; they are simply human. Their greatest concerns are to make human connections and to stave off the spectre of death--both physical death and a death of the soul. It is worth noting that Carver "nearly died of alcoholism" himself (see Tess Gallagher's introduction to Carver's poetry, A New Path to the Waterfall, Atlantic Monthly Press, NY, 1989, p.xxvi).


This story was selected for The Best American Short Stories of the Century, eds. John Updike & Katrina Kenison (Boston: Houghton Mifflin) 1999.

Primary Source

Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count