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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories [Paperback]

Raymond Carver
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 18 1989 Vintage Contemporaries
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.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories + Cathedral + Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?: Stories
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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


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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Master of 'the moment' 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who We Talk About When We Talk About Carver Feb. 17 2002
By Brad
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This is Gordon Lish, not Raymond Carver March 30 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
If you're really interested in reading Raymond Carver's work, choose anything he wrote after 1982. Take a look at Cathedral, or, even better, Where I'm Calling From, which is his definitive retrospective.
So why is this book Gordon Lish's? Check out the New York Times article "The Carver Chronicles" by D. T. Max, published in late 1998. Up until the publication of Cathedral, editor Gordon Lish hacked, slashed, and rewrote the endings of Carver's stories. The stories Lish edited do not even resemble the later revisions by Carver. In many cases, as Max cites in his expose, Lish cut more than 50% of what Carver submitted, often adding bleak endings that were never there. Nearly every story in this collection suffers from Lish's bleak outlook. Carver was never the minimalist; Lish was.
This collection may be worthwhile to some folks who want to see the relationship between an editor and a writer, or it may be useful to diehard Carver fans who want to see the changes Carver made in his later collections. Otherwise, unless you want to read Gordon Lish stories, stay away from this book and read Carver's later work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Carver's best work Dec 5 2003
By mjflat
Format:Paperback
"What We Talk About When We Talk About love" is probably the best compilation of one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century available.
Unlike Cathedral, which sometimes feels a bit cliche or transparent, the work displayed here is pure genius, mastery of minimalism.
The main criticisms of Carver's work include tedium and a lack of "uplifting" messages. Personally I don't have a problem with either of these things, but beyond that I don't see these qualities in Carver's work.
There is an idea in Japanese Theatre of 'ma', what Hayao Miyazaki aptly describes as "The sound between claps". Carver is almost certainly the undisputed western king of this concept.
Carver not only emphasizes the everyday, but the everyday in between the incident.
There is an overwhelming amount of emotion, psychology and conflict to these pieces. The supposed hum-drum of pieces such as "Popular Mechanics" should be viewed as what they are, characters attempts to avoid conflict, where as "Tell the Women We're Going Out" offers a beautiful look at both the problems behind the problem and the way seeming innocence in a moment can be completely destroyed by context. Fans might want to try works of Anton Chekov, Charles Bukowski, John Gardner, Henrik Ibsen or the film "In the Bedroom".
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Carver's a Champ
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... Read more
Published on July 20 2003 by M. Hori
5.0 out of 5 stars America Exposed
Like all of Carver's books, this one is excellent. What more can I say? Buy it, buy it, buy it!
Published on Sept. 6 2002 by Joseph M. Campbell
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential book by Gordon Lish
This is the one book of Carver's that will endure, and we have Gordon Lish to thank for that.
Published on July 19 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for a shallow mind
After reading the stories by this dead white man, I am convinced I will never truly understand any white man, dead or alive. I can't think of a better compliment than that.
Published on Dec 7 2001 by cpparm
5.0 out of 5 stars SHORT BUT NOT REALLY SWEET
As an author with my debut novel in its initial release, I cut my first writing teeth on short stories and I clearly realize Raymond Carver's brilliance. Read more
Published on Aug. 12 2001 by Kent Braithwaite
4.0 out of 5 stars As minimalist as he gets
Any true Carver fan will tell you that he is a "precisionist", not a "minimalist." That said, I still think this is the most minimalist of Carver's books. Read more
Published on Nov. 12 2000 by William Krischke
4.0 out of 5 stars A Poignant and Realistic Look at Life
This books title is apt not only for the story it is named for, but for the collection as a whole. Carver's world is one of broken dreams, harsh realities, and misplaced desires. Read more
Published on Oct. 9 2000 by C Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars What we talk about when we talk about a fantastic book
Raymond Carver is the most incredible story teller of all time. I have read and re-read this book many, many times, and each time I enjoy it more than the time before. Read more
Published on Oct. 5 2000 by Catherine M. Kunz
2.0 out of 5 stars Not so good
To those who say they "levitated" when reading a Raymond Carver story, Marlon Brando--when told his acting could "capture moments"-- said to the PLAYBOY... Read more
Published on Aug. 29 2000
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