What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Summary

Raymond Carver


(Society and Self, Critical Representations 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.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical 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 particular wants to know the end of the story of Ed. Terri and Mel disagree about whether it was right or not for Terri to sit with Ed when he died grotesquely as a cumulative result of his suicide attempts.

When Nick and Laura make physically romantic gestures toward each other, Terri cynically teases them, saying that only because they have been together for the short time of a year and a half do they still feel romantic. They break the tension by refilling their glasses and toasting to...

(The entire section is 799 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 612 words.)