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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories Paperback – June 18, 1989
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"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
"Carver's fiction is so spare in manner that it takes a time before one realizes how completely a whole culture and a whole moral condition is represented by even the most seemingly slight sketch. This second volume of stories is clearly the work of a full-grown master." —Frank Kermode
"Raymond Carver's America is...clouded by pain and the loss of dreams, but it is not as fragile as it looks. It is a place of survivors and a place of stories.... [Carver] has done what many of the most gifted writers fail to do: He has invented a country of his own, like no other except that very world, as Wordsworth said, which is the world to all of us." —Michael Wood, front page, The New York Times Book Review
"Splendid.... The collection as a whole, unlike most, begins to grow and resonate in a wonderful cumulative effect." —Tim O'Brien, Chicago Tribune Book World
"Carver not only enchants, he convinces." —J.D. Reed, Time
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Top Customer Reviews
A note on the physical book itself, I purchased my copy here via Amazon, and it's a thin paperback. Easy to carry around but more flimsy than I'd like. That said, I am very pleased to note the cover image is lovely reproduction of a photograph by artist Todd Hido.
Especially interesting is the title story, what we talk about etc. In the story two couples sit down and start talking about love. One of the women talks alot about her ex-boyfriend, an abusive guy who she couldn't seem to stay away from. They're drinking, of course---de rigeur and the source of most trouble in Carver stories. They talk and drink, and as they talk, the rooms darkens---but nobody turns on the lights. I think it's a metaphor for how we live. Nothing is easy. We can color love with all kinds of pretty hearts and flowers colors, but it's really hard to keep that bright outlook in the face of what it takes to love somebody, every day, the right way.
If you've been happily married for 30 years, this probably won't mean alot to you. But for the many people who have experience with creating their own misery at some length, it can be a resonant read. I wouldn't know anything about that, of course......
Not for everyone, but pretty darn good.
Carver writes in the language of common people experiencing the ramifications of lost love and trying mostly futilely to regain the magic and excitement of the initial experience of love. And he does a wonderful job of exploring and illuminating these themes.
My favorite story from this memorable collection is "What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love." The same title as the collection of stories. This story reminds me of the Eugene O' Neil play--"A Long Day's Journey Into Night" Like,the O'Neil play the characters sit around a table getting drunk and talking about relationships,behavior and other significant things in their lives. And as their drunken journey unfolds,they shed inhibitions,cast aside tact and discretion and lay bare many of their innermost thoughts.
Carver's collection reads quickly because there are no complicated paragraphs or words that you need to grab a dictionary to understand. I've already read the collection twice,gaining a deeper understanding of the collection on the second reading. In the future I will be reading it again and then again and with each subsequent reading undoubtedly gaining more insight and understanding on the themes that Carver explores so well.