Raymond Carver

A Small Good Thing

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A Small Good Thing Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver.

“A Small, Good Thing” is a 1983 short story by Raymond Carver. Carver was lauded as a compelling addition to the American short story canon collection. Critics regard “A Small, Good Thing” to be the finest iteration of his work. Using simple language, the story examines the complex experience of grief after the sudden death of a small boy. The story’s themes include human compassion and forgiveness.

Ann Weiss is ordering a birthday cake for her son, Scotty. She is slightly put off by the sullen and abrupt baker. He is uninterested and tired, after staying up all night baking. He informs her the cake will be ready Monday morning, in time for the birthday party Monday afternoon.

Monday morning, Scotty is walking to school with a friend. They share a bag of potato chips as Scotty pesters his friend about what he is getting Scotty for his birthday. Scotty trips over a curb when he is not looking and falls into the street, where a car hits him. He falls head first into the gutter, his legs sticking out. The driver stops, checking behind him to see if Scotty is all right. When Scotty gets to his feet, the driver rides away.

Scotty is quiet and heads home instead of to school and tells his mother what happened. As she is fussing, Scotty goes limp. Ann and her husband, Howard, call an ambulance. The birthday party is canceled. When they arrive at the hospital, they discover Scotty has a mild concussion and shock. He has instances of vomiting, and fluid in his lungs has to be drained. He goes into a deep sleep.

As his parents wait for him to wake up, Howard decides to go home while Ann stays at the hospital. Howard has an emotional time driving home, but tries to keep his wits about him. As soon as he walks in the door, the phone rings. The man on the other line asks Howard about a cake that was not picked up, which costs sixteen dollars. Howard screams at the man, not knowing what he is talking about, and hangs up. Howard continues to try to relax by bathing and shaving. The phone rings again, but the line is silent.

Howard returns to the hospital. Scotty is receiving glucose, and Ann is worried about why Scotty will not wake up. Howard tells Ann she should rest at home, but warns her about the caller. The doctor comes in and tells them Scotty has a hairline fracture on his skull, and the shock is making him sleep. He insists Scotty is not in a coma. Ann continues to worry as Howard attempts to calm her. They discuss how they both have been praying.

A doctor from radiology arrives and informs the couple they need more x-rays and scans of Scotty’s brain, but tells them not to worry. After the scans, blood is drawn from Scotty. Later, the doctor arrives and says all of Scotty’s tests were negative and he should wake up at any moment, but he begins referring to his sleep as a coma.

Howard convinces Ann to go home for a short time. The dog needs to be fed. Ann hopes Scotty will wake up while she is gone. On her way out, Ann runs into another family who is in a similar situation as she and Howard. Their son was stabbed at a party for no apparent reason and is in surgery. She wishes she could stay and talk with them, but she leaves the hospital and heads home.

When she walks in the door at five o’clock in the morning, the phone rings. Ann frantically asks if the call is about Scotty, the voice replies that is it, cryptically, then hangs up. Ann calls the hospital asking about Scotty, but there has been no change. Howard believes it is the same caller he experienced.

Ann returns to the hospital and asks how the other boy’s surgery went. Unfortunately, he died. As Ann arrives at Scotty’s room, Howard tells her the latest news. A neurologist is with the current doctor, and they have decided to operate. They believe something is wrong regarding the fracture. But before that news can sink in, Scotty wakes up. His eyes are unable to focus on his parents; he screams loudly. Then, Scotty dies.

The doctor tells them it was a hidden occlusion, and there was no way to detect it. If they had found out about it, saving Scotty might have been possible, but unlikely. The doctor apologizes to them. Howard and Ann struggle with their grief and with leaving the hospital. The doctor continues to apologize, and Howard and Ann head home.

Ann begins to make phone calls, which are interrupted by her sobs. Howard comes across Scotty’s bike and holds it to him. Between calls, the phone rings. It is the caller again, saying she forgot about Scotty and he has him ready for her. Ann screams at him and the caller hangs up. Later, the phone rings again at midnight. Howard answers, but the caller hangs up.

Ann realizes who has been calling—the baker. Ann and Howard head to the bakery, even though it is closed. They see the baker and pound on the door. He takes a minute to answer and at first is combative with the pair for not picking up their cake. Incensed, Ann yells that their son has died and how insensitive he is being.

The baker quickly apologizes and begs for their forgiveness. He admits he was out of line and does not know how to act anymore. He is a lonely man and bakes to support himself. He cannot imagine how the couple is feeling, as he never had children. He offers them fresh rolls and Howard and Ann find themselves eating and listening to the baker. They are reluctant to leave as the sun comes up.