What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver, 1981
The magic trick:
This was too easy as a choice for Valentine’s Day, right? After a week of love stories here we have a story that manages to discuss nearly every kind of love we know of. Discuss is the key word there. This is almost all dialogue. It would make a great play – just ask Birdman.
So, before we go any further, we must at least acknowledge that Gordon Lish is almost undoubtedly the person who came up with this story’s legendary title and its tight, bare-bones style. I know the Carver cultists out there hate it, but it does seem Lish edited with a heavy hand. We looked at this story’s non-Lish version, “Beginners,” yesterday at the blog. Check it out. It certainly makes for interesting comparison.
Anyway, it’s Carver’s characters that make it work. It’s not just that the story can carry on with almost no description at all. It’s the Carveresque way the characters have detached from any sense of optimism. Even the happy ones, as Nick and Laura in the swells of early marriage seem to be, feel bored, beaten down, limited. There is such a low ceiling on these lives.
But in some strange way it’s comforting; gripping; even instructive. And that’s quite a trick on Carver’s part.
“How’d we get started on this subject, anyway?” Terri said. She raised her glass and drank from it. “Mel always has love on his mind,” she said. “Don’t you, honey?” She smiled, and I thought that was the last of it.
“I just wouldn’t call Ed’s behavior love. That’s all I’m saying, honey,” Mel said. “What about you guys?” Mel said to Laura and me. “Does that sound like love to you?”
“I’m the wrong person to ask,” I said. “I didn’t even know the man. I’ve only heard his name mentioned in passing. I wouldn’t know. You’d have to know the particulars. But I think what you’re saying is that love is an absolute.”
Mel said, “The kind of love I’m talking about is. The kind of love I’m talking about, you don’t try to kill people.”
Laura said, “I don’t know anything about Ed, or anything about the situation. But who can judge anyone else’s situation?”
I touched the back of Laura’s hand. She gave me a quick smile. I picked up Laura’s hand. It was warm, the nails polished, perfectly manicured. I encircled the broad wrist with my fingers, and I held her.