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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories Paperback – June 18, 1989

ISBN-13: 978-0679723059 ISBN-10: 0679723056 Edition: Reissue

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (June 18, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679723056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679723059
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" is not only the most well-known short story title of the latter part of the 20th century; it has come to stand for an entire aesthetic, the bare-bones prose style for which Raymond Carver became famous. Perhaps, it could be argued, too famous, at least for his fiction's own good. Like those of Hemingway or any other writer similarly loved, imitated, parodied, and reviled, these stories can sometimes produce the sense of reading pastiche. "A man without hands came to the door to sell me a photograph of my house." "That morning she pours Teacher's over my belly and licks it off. That afternoon she tries to jump out the window." "My friend Mel McGinnis was talking. Mel is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right." What other writer ever produced first sentences like these? They are like doors into Carverworld, where everyone speaks in simple declarative phrases, no one ever stops at one beer, and failure or violence are the true outcomes of the American dream.

Yet these stories bear careful re-reading, like any truly important and enduring work. For one thing, Carver is one of the few writers who can make desperation--cutting your ex-wife's telephone cord in the middle of a conversation, standing on your own roof chunking rocks while a man with no hands takes your picture--deeply funny. Then there is the sheer craft that went into their creation. Despite their seeming simplicity, his tales are as artfully constructed as poems--and like poems, the best of them can make your breath catch in your throat. In the title piece, for instance, after the gin has been drunk, after the stories have been told, after the tensions in the room have come to the surface and subsided again, there comes a moment of strange lightness and peace: "I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone's heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark."

Much of what happens in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981) happens offstage, and we're left with tragedy's props: booze, instant coffee, furniture from a failed marriage, cigarettes smoked in the middle of the night. This is not merely a matter of technique. Carver leaves out a great deal, but that's only a measure of his characters' vulnerability, the nerve endings his stories lay bare. To say anything more, one feels, would simply hurt too much. --Mary Park

From the Inside Flap

In his second collection of stories, as in his first, Carver's characters are peripheral people--people without education, insight or prospects, people too unimaginative to even give up. Carver celebrates these men and women.

Customer Reviews

This book has stories that are a must read.
Esteban Miranda
The collection of short stories What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver is essential reading for short story writers.
Matthew Simmons
I love Carver's writing, his spare use of language.
nina smith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

150 of 152 people found the following review helpful By Steven Reynolds on June 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
I used to hate Carver. "Nothing happens in these stories!" I would say. "What does it MEAN, for God's sake?!" It took me a while to realise that Carver's genius isn't for the grand epiphany, the convoluted plot, or the surprise ending. His genius is for moments of pathos; for moments of carefully observed humanity; for human foibles unflinchingly, but never unkindly, revealed. You really have to read him for yourself to understand, but here's an example: the story "Gazebo", which is one of my favourites from this collection. The story works because what 'the gazebo' means to the couple in the story is something most of us have felt: a dream of future happiness that is now lost to us; lost because we don't see how we might escape the banality of our own lives; lost because we fail to see how close we are to achieving it, if only we could slightly change the way we see things, or the way we live. None of this is overtly stated in the story - and that's Carver's genius. It is simply implied by juxtaposition. Thematic statements and grand epiphanies undermine so many stories (even some of Carver's earlier ones) because they are embarrassing. I don't mean embarrassing for the writer, I mean embarrassing for us, the readers: to have these slightly pathetic, vaguely shameful, and yet very human moments which are recognisably our own shoved in our faces feels like an accusation, and one we understandably reject. But to have them placed before us, gently, apparently undeliberately, so that we might see them for ourselves is wonderful. It engages OUR powers of observation and reflection, not just the writer's. We see ourselves reflected there in the story, and it's a private moment of self-revelation, of self-understanding. And more often than not, this is NOT a life-changing experience for us.Read more ›
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 20, 1998
Format: Paperback
Raymond Carver's friend Tobias Wolff (see Carver's essay on his friendship with Wolff and Pulizer Prize winner Richard Ford in Carver's collection NO HEROICS,PLEASE) said that when he read the short story "Cathedral" for the first time he had the feeling he was levitating off the couch where he was stretched out reading. I had the same response to this essential work WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT LOVE as I emerged from my college library where I should have been studying, but was transfixed by this book I had just picked up by chance the day before. I had the feeling that I was floating across the campus toward the cafeteria for my evening meal after reading this book in one sitting. Who is Raymond Carver? Who is this guy ?, I kept saying to myself, feeling that all the persons and places I passed just NOW were the loveliest things I'd ever seen. How could anyone make me feel like that? I'm still wondering today and that was fourteen years ago! I might talk about Raymond Carver in very sophisticated terms today but my initial primal response still seems inexplicable. I have read everything I could get my hands on that Carver ever wrote or said, but this is the book in which Carver captured the solitary American experience at its heartfelt core. It shows what happens to us, the price we pay for our dreams , loves, and terrors. Or what is, perhaps, as the American poet Michael Palmer has characterized it: the "psychic cost of the American project." Carver wrote this book in the late 1970's just after alcoholism nearly killed him and he had given up everything just to SURVIVE (including, he thought back then, any sense that he might ever write again). My recommendation goes beyond the fact that this is my first and favorite Carver book. Why? This is it!Read more ›
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Brad on February 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
The question of authorship should be immaterial to the reading of this work. Do we care what was left out? Do we care who wrote which sentence? In the end, whatever the process that produced them, this collection contains some of the most tragically beautiful stories I've read. The prose is minimal, but masterfully minimal -- it feels like the stories form the briefest of forays across the skin of a giant animal, and though you can't tell exactly what the animal is, or where it is going, you know there is something vaguely wrong, deep down below. The style Carver employs means that the smallest of incidents become important in mysterious ways, as if each part of the story, no matter how seemingly insignificant, contains part of the clue to the whole. But because of the sparse nature of the work, the clues never sum to a complete solution -- I feel like these stories reside somewhere between the tiny fictions we invent for people we glance at in the street, and fully-fledged realism which doesn't leave us room for imagination. Carver takes this space and with deft touches makes it seem both familiar and strange. Can't say enough about him. If you aspire to writing short stories, this will either set the bar for you or make you want to give up...
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By M. Hori on July 20, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've been using this book in literature classes in Japan, and I have to say that these stories have lost none of their power in the twenty-odd years since they first appeared in book form. Carver was a master at presenting the disillusioned and the lost in terse, understated, colloquial English that still is as crisp and fine as when it was first minted. Like Hemingway, Carver developed a method to freight the simplest words and sentences with a depth of meaning that can skew the whole story in an unexpected way, even in the very last sentence. This takes craft and talent, both qualities that Carver exhibits in the highest degree.
Some may find his choice of subject matter rather limited. His characters, too, often exhbit the same strengths and the same weaknesses (booze for instance)--and this may signal a kind of narrowness of vision to some. Certainly Carver does not have the breadth of a Tolstoy or a Doestoyevsky, or even of a Faulkner or a Hemingway--yet these limitations, I would argue, are also his greatest strengths. Though he does not have a universal sweep, Carver knows his territory well, and mines his subject in all kinds of fascinating ways.
All in all, this book is a fine introduction to Raymond Carver's work.
Carver's a champ in my book and I predict that some of these stories will find their way into the American canon right next to Melville, Poe, Emerson, and all the rest. What a chuckle for Ray when he looks down from his writer's heaven and notices the gold stamping on the spine!
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More About the Author

Raymond Carver was born in Clatskanie, Oregon, in 1938. His father was a saw-mill worker and his mother was a waitress and clerk. He married early and for years writing had to come second to earning a living for his young family. Despite, small-press publication, it was not until Will You Please Be Quiet Please? appeared in 1976 that his work began to reach a wider audience. This was the year in which he gave up alcohol, which had contributed to the collapse of his marriage. In 1977 he met the writer Tess Gallagher, with whom he shared the last eleven years of his life. During this prolific period he wrote three collections of stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Cathedral and Elephant. Fires, a collection of essays, poems and stories, appeared in 1985, followed by three further collections of poetry. In 1988 he completed the poetry collection A New Path to the Waterfall.

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