Wednesday, November 24, 2021

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

I bought What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver when a bunch of my fellow writing workshop participants gushed about Carver's short stories and how much they loved them, back in August. I've heard of Carver, of course, but I had not paid much attention to him because this was the first time I'd ever really encountered anyone who felt like Carver's a must-read. And, they all seemed to think he was a must-read. 

At any rate, I finally got around to reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and I have to tell you that it wasn't an immediate love story. At first, I was kind of perplexed. What was he trying to say? Why did his short stories leave so much to the imagination? Is this something I personally should strive for or is it just some rare skill that makes you want to talk to anyone you can find who's read the same stories? 

The further I got into the book, the more I began to love Raymond Carver. And, it's for exactly the same reasons that I was perplexed. He leaves so much to the reader's imagination that you get a bit of an enjoyable brain workout. For example, in the first story the contents of a man's house are outside on his lawn and driveway. The bedroom is set up as it was inside, with side tables and lamps in their proper places. The living room furniture is placed so that you can sit on the couch and look across to the TV. A young couple comes along and wonders aloud whether all these items are for sale. They could sure use some inexpensive furnishings to fill out their new home. Then, the owner comes outside, sits with them, and gives them his asking price for each item. The young woman has already planned to ask to pay less and he takes each of their offers with no argument. In fact, they sit around like they've known each other forever. And, that's it. That's the story.

So, you can see how much he leaves for the reader to think about. Why would someone empty the contents of his house and sell them cheaply? Has he lost his job? Is he about to lose his home? Has he gotten divorced and, knowing his ex is going to get the house and its contents, decided to sell everything cheaply for revenge? Is he dying, so no longer finds possessions important? So many questions and none of them are answered, of course, or you wouldn't have them in the first place. But, it's the missing information that makes Carver such an amazing read. That, and his minimalist writing style, which is punchy and clear and draws you in. 

Highly recommended - I'm going to be watching for more Carver when I give myself a break to buy books. I am utterly fascinated and besotted with his writing and the way it makes my mind churn. Someone at Goodreads put it much better, calling these "slice of life stories that go nowhere and end ambiguously." Jason Koivu is the name of that reviewer. Ah, he stated it perfectly and while he seems to agree that it makes no sense why such ambiguity is so compelling, you can't help but admire and enjoy them. Or, in Jason's words, "[. . . ] for some damn reason I loved them." Yeah, that. 

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  1. As a proponent of reader response, I'd say Carver leaves a lot of gaps and gives just enough context to invite you to fill them in. This is one reason the title of this collection is one of the most imitated

    1. Yes, that's exactly what I was trying to say. As to the title, I know Murakami used something similar for his book about running and it has that familiar feel; that must be why.


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