I met short-story writer Raymond Carver four years before he died. He came to the University of Utah to read, and I spent a chunk of an afternoon interviewing him.

And the Ray Carver I met and whose stories I read has nothing in common with the Ray Carver of Robert Altman's new movie "Short Cuts."Yes, Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher, praises Altman's movie version of her husband's stories. She says Ray would love the film.

She should know.

But I saw the film, I saw Carver, and I just don't see it.

In Carver's stories, lives like yours and mine grow noble because of their hints of tragedy. In Altman's movie, our lives are seen as somehow comic, and therefore slightly pathetic.

"Exhibit A" is Carver's story "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?"

In Carver's story, a man in the Pacific Northwest learns that his wife was unfaithful to him at a party many years before. The man leaves the house, wanders the streets and flirts with self-destruction - to a point. He's just not quite brave enough to do anything desperate. He joins a rowdy poker game but leaves after only losing 40 bucks. He drinks, but not too much. And when he walks on the wild side of town in a kind of half-hearted death wish, he gets punched in the gut for his trouble.

Back home, the man's wife is waiting. She won't leave him alone. She's relentless about breaking through his pain and making contact with him. "Will you please be quiet, please?" he says from the locked bathroom. Finally, she is able to wear him down and touch him lightly on shoulder. He turns toward her, astounded at how quickly his terrible hate for her is beginning to melt.

In Altman's version of the story, the man is a glitzy L.A. surgeon. When his wife confesses her indiscretion (standing naked from the waist down on the screen), the surgeon replies, "I have to start the barbecue, we're expecting guests." In a silly evening of drinking, the couple and their two guests somehow end up sitting in an expensive hot-tub dressed up in clown outfits. The rumpus ends when an earthquake hits L.A. The husband's one moment of pathos comes as he looks at his wife, opens his mouth and pinches the neck of helium balloon to make it squawk.

For dramatic effect (that is, to build box office) Altman turns honest suffering into an exotic strain of California neurosis.

Where Carver's characters are often self-centered and self-important, Altman's are totally self-absorbed.

Is Gallagher right? Would Carver have loved this movie? The writer had a delicate ear and the subtle voice of a woodwind. Altman's film sounds like someone puffing too hard on a harmonica.

Years ago, in our U. interview, Carver rattled me. Not by what he said but by how he listened. He listened on several levels. He was listening to me talk, listening to see what slant I had on the world and listening for straight information - any information - about Utah.

Twice, a member of the faculty banged on the door to tell him it was time for lunch. Twice, he ignored the knock and asked more questions. He was a master of the short story, but he was also the most tenacious student I've ever met.

For such reasons, my casting Carver as a wronged prophet and Altman as a heretic in this column probably wouldn't sit well with him either.

How would Raymond Carver handle it all?

The way he handled most things. He'd write a short story about a small-town writer who produces a lilting little piece of realism, then watches as America's popular culture machine turns the story into a marketable legend - far removed from the world where the writer lives and loves.