Friday, March 11, 2011

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

“Mel thought real love was nothing less than spiritual love. He’d said he’d spent five years in a seminary before quitting to go to medical school. He said he still looked back on those years in the seminary as the most important years of his life.”
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is Raymond Carver's classic collection of short stories. Unfortunately, this may have been another case of me having heard a few too many positive comments about Carver, and this book in particular. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, but I somehow expected something more. Even writing this review, I find it difficult to specifically recall most of the stories, and there were only a few that really touched me. That said, Carver's style of writing is definitely unique and something that has been emulated by many writers since. The stories have a quietness to them, the writing is sparse and simple, and they focus on men and woman without ambition and without direction. It is just a glimpse into their lives, peeking in and then vanishing just as quickly.

One story I particularly enjoyed was "I Could See the Smallest Things" where a woman has a midnight chat with a neighbour her husband was once friends with but had a falling out, the man is killing slugs. Afterwards, the woman goes inside to her sleeping husband, the drool on his face reminding her of the slugs she just saw. The title short story is one of the longer ones in the collection, although still pretty short, and "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" was a memorable reflection on what love means to different people. When Carver is successful his stories are looks into the lives of the ordinary through a dirty lens which blurs the nonsense and keeps only what is essential.

Overall, the book provides some simple and beautiful moments but the lack of resolution in the stories was a technique which didn't always work for me. The stories are all very bleak and occasionally run together because I didn't find that there were any ups and downs to the collection but that it mostly ran at a similar frequency. Also, perhaps due to the brevity of many of the stories, I sometimes I felt as if Carver really hadn't let the reader know enough about the characters to get me interested or invested in the story. Ultimately, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a good introduction to a famous contemporary short story writer but although Carver peeked my interest, he didn't capture my heart. 

Release Date: 1981
Pages: 144
: 3.5/5

Source: Personal Copy (Gift from Laala)
Buy the Book


  1. I read several bokks of Carver's short story collections many years ago, including the one you review here. I enjoyed Carver's style but many of his stories don't get resolved in any satisfactory way. And his stories tend to be rather bleak and full of despair.

    What We Talk About When We Talk About Love I didn't like nearly as much as the stories collected in Cathedral. I thought they were better over all and more interesting.

  2. @ Amy, I totally agree with your comments. I read this collection first because I had gotten it as a gift and also it's the one I had heard the most about. After your comment I will definitely be giving Cathedral a try sometime in the future. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. It's been eons since I've read Carver, but he was one of my fave short story writers for a long time. I have Cathedral on my shelves, which I really liked.

    Have you tried John Cheever? Another of my favourites. I don't find him bleak.

    Alice Munro's stories for me tend to be too depressing. I swear, none of the relationships are ever good. I have to read her in small doses.


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