What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond CarverIll announce the cliche of my loving this book before you beat me to it.
Im an overeducated, mock-contemplative early-twenty-something with a penchant for strong male voices (despite my feminist leanings) and a distaste for anything too sentimental. I was raised in the tradition of Show, Dont Tell and hold this closer than even my favorite teddy (whose name is Atticus.) My middle name is Minimalism. My other middle name is Ooh, that sounds pretty.
With that out of the way, yes, of course I loved this volume, and probably for the reasons youd expect.
Raymond Carvers name should be in lights. Everyone who likes this book is going to tell you that one of Carvers strengths is his knack for understatement. Im guessing what theyre getting at is Carvers ability to keep all the mechanics of his stories imperceptible beneath the surface, with maybe a few out-of-character exceptions (the alcohol device in the title story being one). Theres also the fact that Carver seems to accomplish things in the span of one page that so many authors would kill many more trees (and possibly small children, and maybe even a puppy or two) to achieve; see the opening page of Tell The Women Were Going to see what I mean. How many authors can convincingly sum up the entire personal history of two characters in only one paragraph?
Beneath the tightness of each story there seems to be a distinctive pulse. Not the rhythm of the language. Rather, the kind of pure life energy that all artistic works strive for (or at least they should.) When stories took turns (for the worst is implicit), what startled me more than each outcome was often the fact that I was so moved by them each. Its because of this pulse that characters who existed for only 3 or 4 pages still seemed to walk off the page and become real. And thats probably what will make these stories linger in my memory.
People often seem to speak of Raymond Carvers America when theyre trying to grasp these stories. I dont know what that means, or if Raymond Carvers America is anything like mine. Whatever it is, its tortured and beautiful. And I like it.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (1981): In praise of older books
Such questions of authorship vs. However, for those who wish to experience the short story form at its very best, it is both refreshing and entertaining to leave these questions aside and read the Vintage Classics edition. Short single-sentence paragraphs are a hallmark of this book, often used to sign-post important moments and sometimes as powerful as a knife to the heart. The stories seem to get both longer and weightier as the collection progresses and the overarching themes are investigated in more depth. Textually, the stories are light and easy to read, yet they raise complex philosophical questions for the reader about the nature of modern life and love. You can find him drunk-tweeting as jazir or at danielyoung.
The reader gets the feeling that he may be selling all his possessions, looking to start life anew. A young couple stops by to select furniture for their new apartment. They haggle a little over prices and buy a TV and a bed. The drinking man tells the young girl to put a record on. When the music begins the man asks the couple to dance. Uncomfortably, they comply.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a collection of seventeen short stories that deal with middle-class people facing their own truths, coping with their respective losses, and watching love come in and go out of their lives. These people are the people that one is most likely to run into across the road, at the barber shop, bakery, hospital, any ordinary place. They may be doing the most mundane things that one could ever think of, but in this book, they are masterfully celebrated as the forces that propel this life. I first heard of Raymond Carver from a local writer who used to host literary contests at her blog. A sort of envy settled in me; to be compared to a great writer is most flattering and deeply humbling. I made a mental note to explore him to find out what makes up a Carver story. Driving is very smooth, traffic signs appear here and there, but at the slightest turn, they end.
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He writes pain and loss and despair. He writes it the way he sees it. And he sees it cold and hard and brutal. Stuart, Gordon, Mel and Vern go fishing. They see a dead body. A girl. She was wedged into some branches that stuck out over the water.