The short story ‘‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,’’ by Raymond Carver is the title story in his first volume of short fiction by a major publisher. Upon publication, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love received immediate and glowing critical acclaim, earning front page coverage in the New York Times Book Review as well as a favorable review in the New York Review of Books. Adam Meyer explains that ‘‘this was to be the volume that would firmly establish Carver as an important writer.’’ The stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love are considered the epitome of Carver’s sparse, minimalist writing style. Marshall Bruce Gentry and William L. Stull refer to the volume as Carver’s ‘‘minimalist masterpiece.’’ Meyer explains that ‘‘the collection has been nicknamed the ‘minimalist bible,’ and when readers and critics consider Carver a minimalist they generally have this volume in mind.’’ Meyer concludes that ‘‘because it is the volume that established Carver as a major literary figure, it has remained the collection most associated with him.’’ Gentry and Stull note that ‘‘the bare-boned collection proved immensely influential on a younger generation of short-story writers coming of age in the 1980s.’’
The entire action of the story takes place over the course of an evening, during which two married couples, Nick, who is also the narrator, and Laura, and Mel and Terri, sit around the kitchen table drinking gin and discussing the topic of ‘‘real love.’’ The dynamics between the two couples are contrasted through their gestures and interactions with one another. Nick and Laura are still in the glow of early love, and their behavior toward one another is affectionate and respectful. Mel and Terri, on the other hand, have been together five years, and their surface-level civility to one another barely masks a deep-seated anger and resentment. Mel’s alcoholism, and increasing drunkenness over the course of the evening, sets a tone of increasingly intensified menace to the whole conversation.
This story addresses typical Carver themes of marriage and divorce, alcoholism, despair, and the difficulty of communication.