What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

Summary from Goodreads:

This powerful collection of stories, set in the mid-West among the lonely men and women who drink, fish and play cards to ease the passing of time, was the first by Raymond Carver to be published in the UK. With its spare, colloquial narration and razor-sharp sense of how people really communicate, the collection was to become one of the most influential literary works of the 1980s.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love contains 17 short stories. They feature common people and depict everyday struggles and issues pertaining to relationships be it with friends, husbands, wives, parents, sons, and daughters. 

To be honest, during the first few stories, I found myself baffled. They end so abruptly and very loosely. No concrete resolutions, no definite conclusions, no closure. At some point, I started yelling: "The End!" after each story, just to signal my child-brain that this is well, the end. I found it quite challenging too, when it somes to understanding what point Raymond Carver is getting at in some of the stories. But as I progress, I began to settle into Carver's writing style. It only takes some getting used to. And sure, I am most likely to not remember what each of the 17 stories are about. But what will stay with me is the mood. The loneliness, the despair, that bubbling anger, the guilt, the regret, the world weariness. I like that the stories feel raw and real. The writing is pretty simple too. It just tells everything like it is. Plain old folks with plain old issues but somehow there is a certain intensity to each of the stories.  

Notable to me, among the 17 stories, are the following :

1. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - This proved to be my favorite. It's a story about 2 couples, sitting around, drinking, and talking at great length, about love. They try to define it, and make sense of it. Carnal love, sentimental love, spiritual love. They speak of heartbreaks and the wish to avoid it. About whether abusive relationships can be called love.  About falling in love and then falling out of love. Of love turning to become only memories. It was a beautiful piece of discourse that showed a lot of heart and vulnerability and bitterness and all those other things that come up whenever we talk about love. 

2. The Bath - This speaks of a couple's ordeal when their son got hit by a car on the day of his birthday and ended up comatose. I don't have children but I felt like all the wind went out of me when I read this because I immediately thought of my sister and my nephew. I just felt limp. 

3. Everything Stuck to Him - A daughter asks her father to tell her a story of when she was a child. And the dad proceeds to tell one of when they were just a very young couple with the daughter only a new born baby, and at the time when they were just starting to get their life together, as a family. Well, I always like newlywed/newbie parents stories, especially the ones where they don't have much and yet they seem to be quite happy and satisfied. This also just seems less bleak than most of the 17. I like how it emphasized that in relationships, it's all about the choices that we make. 

4. Tell the Women We're Going - Here we have two best friends who go way back. Jerry and Bill. They shared everything when they were young. The two men grew up, with Jerry getting married first. He now has two kids and another one coming. Soon after, Bill ties the knot too. One time, these couples got together in Jerry's house for a day of relaxation. The wives were there and the kids were there. Jerry soon got restless and invited Bill for a drive where they encountered two women on a bicycle to which Jerry insisted on talking with. They soon ended up trailing the women. This one will stay with me for probably the wrong reason because I am not exactly sure of what the story is getting at in the first place. But I had to do a double take on the ending. It's like a page right out of an Alfred Hitchcock film. My thoughts suddenly went to the wives and the children, probably chilling out in Jerry's place, unaware of what had just happened. Crazy stuff this one.

Despite not taking to this book from the get go, and despite feeling daft many times over, I'll still say it was a good experience reading Raymond Carver. I cannot deny the power of his stories. There is a certain weightiness, even in their simplicity.


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