marginalia || What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver

It took forever to return to Raymond Carver. I mean, I love the man, and his writing  I don’t know the cause of my skittishness, although I have blamed it on the unease I feel when plunging into a book I know is good but whose goodness I might not be ready for. Am I making sense? Still, I dilly-ed, and I dally-ed, but one odd hour I just slipped What We Talk About When We Talk About Love from the Sasha Shelf at P.’s and just read.

I was immediately plunged into Carver’s world. The first story, “Why Don’t You Dance?” just blew me away. Well, it grabbed me by my neck, shook me around and then blew me away. Frankly, this wasn’t the Carver I remembered (gruff, mostly). It’s a disquieting story, and Carver-esque (hah) in its straightforwardness, its brevity. See, there’s a yard sale, or rather, there’s a bedroom set displayed in the yard of some man. A boy and a girl go check it out. And then, and then–how to tell you about a Carver story, why not just go out and read it? Please? Haha. The scenes call to mind some sensitive hipster movies but with a lot more dignity and [genuine] sadness to the desperation.

Ack, I don’t know what to say, darn it, it gave me the chills, okay? It was disquieting and it was kick-ass, and my breath caught, and I sighed, and I had to step away from the book a couple of minutes and just go Whoa.

Another favorite of mine would have to be “Sacks.” It’s a sad story–there’s rather careless reunion between a father and a son. There’s this scene where the father is recounting his affair with the woman who broke up his marriage–and you just know he’s saying all this by way of apology, an explanation that unburdens himself but also tries to reach out to those he’d left behind–and the son is just there, hardly listening [or--gasp!--maybe he is!] and looking around the bar for things that will distract him. It’s a heartbreaking little story, what with the father’s confusion, his helplessness:

“Well, I kissed her then. I put her head back on the sofa and I kissed her, and I can feel her tongue out there rushing to get in my mouth. You see what I’m saying? A man can go along obeying all the rules and then it doesn’t make a damn anymore. His luck just goes, you know?”

It’s just so cruel, the son’s indifference, this apathy. Told in his POV, a giant flashback, doesn’t this just hint at so many sad things? And goodness, that last line, that heartbreaker. Darn it.

There’s also quite a lot of anger to the stories here, and most of them aren’t elaborated. You need to hunt them elaborations down yourself. You have to want to. In the story “Gazebo,” for example, it’s classic Carver’s volatile domestic tale. Hidden desires. Charged conversations. Tensions skimming the surface of everyday things.

I think Denis Donoghue’s blurb (and he specifies “Gazebo,” though of course it applies to all of Carver’s) says best what I felt and thought in reading this collection:

In Raymond Carver’s stories, it is dangerous even to speak. Conversation completes the damage people have already done to one another in silence. It is not safe to form a sentence or even to speak a name. To say “Duane” or “Holly” is to pronounce yet another doom. This is the fiction Carver writes, and I know of nothing stronger in its kind.

Damn it, but it feels good to be back in Carver’s world. The stories here are definitely on my Reread list (and I do think Carver’s a writer to be reread). It’s almost like a spell, what comes over me when I’m in Carver’s world. Good times, my babies, good times.

PS — I’m OC, so this has to be put in here. The story “The Bath” is an early version (an un-Gordon-Lished version?) of my favorite Carver story ever, “A Small, Good Thing.” In this early version, there’s pretty much no baker telling the couple about the small, good things of the world and wasn’t that what made this story the kickest-assiest of them all? Just saying.

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4 comments

  1. Carver is my favourite. I still remember every detail of most of the stories within this collection. Though I think the one that stayed with me the most was “Tell the Women We’re Going.” I’ll never forget the feeling of my heart beating faster at reading the story’s last sentence.

    1. Yes, Carver’s one of my favorite writers too. This is an explosive collection–and yes, that last line of “Tell The Women We’re Going” was chilling. That’s what marked this book for me, that chill, that disquiet. I just love Carver. Sigh.

  2. [...] is “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” a short story by Raymond Carver from his eponymous collection. How many times have I read this? How many times have I marveled at how charged the conversations [...]

  3. [...] What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories, by Raymond Carver [...]

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