Study Guide

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

by Raymond Carver

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

Raymond Carver is best known for his four major collections of short stories. His first collection published by a major press, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976), comprised stories written over a period of fourteen years. The second, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981), established his national reputation as a leading short story writer. The third, Cathedral (1984), is considered Carver’s masterpiece. The fourth, Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories (1988), includes major revisions of previously published stories.

Carver is perhaps best known for his characterization of the sector of struggling white, working poor Americans and the atmosphere of despair and defeat in which they take place. Adam Meyer claims that ‘‘of the writers who attempted to depict the history of this ‘blue collar despair,’ none did so as fully and accurately as Raymond Carver.’’ Carver himself was born into a working poor family, his father a laborer at a sawmill, and Carver occupied a variety of blue-collar jobs before landing his first white-collar job. Critics have dubbed this milieu ‘‘Carver Country,’’ indicating that it represents a significant sector of American life, regardless of regional specificity.

Adam Meyer explains that ‘‘one thing Carver Country is not is a particular geographic location,’’ noting that ‘‘the great majority of Carver’s stories . . . take place in regionally anonymous indoor settings.’’ Meyer describes typical Carver characters as: ‘‘primarily employed, when they are employed at all, as blue-collar workers—waitresses, mill or factory workers, mechanics, mail-carriers, sales clerks, motel managers, hairdressers. For relaxation they play bingo, watch television, or go fishing or hunting.’’ Describing the atmosphere of Carver’s stories, Meyer points out that the characters’ ‘‘marginal lives are filled with failure, deterioration, disenchantment, and despair, leading many critics to designate Carver Country...

(The entire section is 851 words.)