What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

My second Christmas Break book this year was Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. I love short-form fiction, even though I don’t actually take the time to read it more than once or twice a year. I got to know the genius of Raymond Carver while studying Creative Writing in college — and I’ve read a couple of his books through the years. But after enjoying Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (probably my favorite book of the year), back in March, I thought it would be fun to read Carver’s book which apparently helped to inspire the title.

One thing that struck me with What We Talk About When We Talk About Love was its swanky seventies feel. The characters are always smoking cigarettes and sipping on cocktails. Men’s and women’s roles in society seem to be off. The way people talk, sleep around, and deal with domestic violence… It just feels like a very different era. The tension between time periods is more than I’ve ever previously noticed in Carver’s writing. I’m not sure why this stood out this time. It might be this particular collection of short stories, or it might be the passage of time and cultural perspectives.

This is also a particularly sad collection of stories. The title would suggest romance. But there’s far more violence than gentleness. More infidelity than commitment. More abuse than intimacy. It’s hard to read at times: not because it’s bad writing, but because it’s bad behavior.

Carver manages to pack a lot of power into a very small amount of space. His opening hooks are masterful. His cliffhanger endings are genius. He gets so much mileage out of such sparse description. I feel like I have so much to learn from him as a writer. So I’d definitely recommend the book on a technical level. On an aesthetic level, though, it’s hard to really celebrate the stories from this book. What they talk about when they talk about love is pain. So if you choose to read this book for yourself, be ready for heartache.

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