Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
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.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Nick, who is Mel’s close friend, recounts a conversation that the two men and their wives had over gin and tonics in Mel and Terri’s kitchen. The remembered dialogue is dominated by Mel, who is determined to articulate a definition of real love. Nick occasionally departs from recounting the conversation to remark briefly on the room, or on the progress of their drunkenness, or to give background information about himself or whoever is speaking. The story begins with Nick’s suggestion that because Mel was a cardiologist, that sometimes “gave him the right.”
Nick says, as background information, that Mel spent time in a seminary before going to medical school. Mel thinks that real love is nothing less than spiritual love. Terri recalls Ed, the man with whom she lived before she lived with Mel. Ed, she says, loved her so much he tried to kill her. She describes his brutal treatment of her, and she wonders what can be done about love like that.
Mel disagrees strongly with Terri’s contention that Ed’s feelings for her were love. As they argue about it, Mel accuses Terri of being a romantic. Nick and Laura are reluctant to judge, but when Terri says that when she left Ed, he drank rat poison, Laura is shocked. Mel tells them that Ed is dead and begins another story about Ed’s violence and his death, to which Mel was privy because he was on call in the emergency room. Mel emphasizes how Ed regularly threatened them. Laura in...
(The entire section is 799 words.)
The action of the story, ‘‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,’’ takes place over the course of an evening, in which two couples, Nick and Laura, and Mel and Terri McGinnis, sit around the kitchen table at the McGinnis’ apartment, drinking gin and talking, before they all go out to dinner together. No one so much as gets up from the table over the course of their conversation, except to get out a second bottle of gin. The story takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico although, as the narrator explains, ‘‘we were all from somewhere else.’’ Mel, a forty-five year old cardiologist, is divorced, and Terri is his second wife. Terri is also divorced and Mel is her second husband. Mel and Terri have been married for four years, together for five. Nick and Laura are married, and have been together only eighteen months.
As the story opens, the narrator explains that ‘‘The gin and tonic water kept going around, and we somehow got on the subject of love.’’ Mel, who had once gone to seminary school, claims that ‘‘real love was nothing less than spiritual love.’’ They then begin to discuss Terri’s former husband, Ed, who was physically abusive to her, had threatened Mel on several occasions, and eventually shot himself in the head, dying three days later. Mel argues that that is not real love, while Terri insists that Ed did love her. While Nick and Laura’s relationship seems to be completely harmonious, and their...
(The entire section is 612 words.)