What We Talk About When We Talk About Love vaulted Raymond Carver to the forefront of literary attention in the 1980’s. His pared-down style was praised and maligned, and he was celebrated as his generation’s most capable spokesperson for blue-collar frustration.
Ordinary life is the antagonist throughout the seventeen stories. Short on education, Carver’s people work assembly lines, wait tables, stock shelves, and manage second-rate motels. Their houses are trashy; their cars and furniture break down. Treading debt, they sell off their belongings at reduced prices or bank on getting lucky at the local bingo hall. Even their weekends and vacations turn out miserably. After years of hard work, they have little to show for their efforts. Most turn to alcohol, knowing that the things they want most for themselves and their families are never going to happen.
These low-rent tragedies are played out between men and women. Some couples are just beginning their relationships, some are locked in unfortunate marriages, and others are divorced. Carver explores in each story some aspect of “dis-ease,” a term he often used for “a certain terrible kind of domesticity.” In “Gazebo,” for instance, Holly and Duane, a young married couple, have arrived at an impasse because of Duane’s infidelity. He and Holly try to get past the issue by getting drunk and making love, but her trust has been shattered. Their future is now vastly...
(The entire section is 447 words.)