What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is Raymond Carver's second collection of short stories. Love, in all of its manifestations – romantic, familial, unrequited – unobtrusively underpins all of Carver’s tales with skillful subtlety.
"I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone's heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”
The love Carver presents us with here is the understated, day-to-day kind; difficult to articulate. A father and son who have grown apart meet at an airport. A couple discuss the disintegration of their marriage after one of them has an affair. An ageing, lonely man asks for his regards to be passed on to an old friend.
The collection’s strength lies in Carver’s ability to construct a layered, meaningful narrative in a few simple and hard-hitting sentences: “There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying.” The language is sparse throughout and meanings rest heavily on what is left unsaid. Each story is self-contained; however, the characters depicted are tied together by their loneliness and dissatisfaction; all of them to some degree trapped and unable to escape.
It's not the happiest of reads, but describing it as hopeless seems similarly unapt. We get little glimpses of hope and reconciliation throughout, and perhaps this is what makes these brief insights into peoples’ lives resonate so deeply with the reader.
Words: Catherine Karellis
Artwork: Heart, 1979 by Andy Warhol