What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories Paperback – Jun 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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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.
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".
Most recent customer reviews
Liked it a lot. The short stories were just weird enough to make me feel arty.Published 4 months ago by christina cantaloupe
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 morePublished on July 20 2003 by M. Hori
Like all of Carver's books, this one is excellent. What more can I say? Buy it, buy it, buy it!Published on Sept. 5 2002 by Joseph M. Campbell
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
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
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