What we Talk About When we Talk about Love by Raymond Carver

Sunday, June 14, 2009

This post is really a continuation of my previous one on Raymond Carver

I have not read many short stories in my time. After now having completed the second collection by Carver I am beginning to appreciate the skill involved in delivering messages about the characters using very little text. A full length novel has the luxury of being able to develop characters over time, and often still does not succeed. How do you, therefore, accomplish it in seven pages? Perhaps "developing" the character is not even the right term. How do you give glimpses of insight into the characters that allow you to, even momentarily, understand them? I am finding Carver's writing to rely on the logical thinking of his readers. Each sentence has a purpose in his writing and he leaves it up to us to determine their significance based on our own interpretation.

There are two stories that stayed with me the most. The first one is titled "Viewfinder". It is about a man with no hands who takes photographs of peoples houses and then sells them to the owners. He visits one house where the owner offers him coffee not necessarily because of his hospitable nature but instead due to a nagging curiosity to see how a man with two hooks for hands would hold the cup.

The second has the same title as the book itself. It is essentially a discussion between two couples about love. Their openness to elaborate on the more intimate aspects of their relationships is greatly aided by two bottles of gin. The conversation is good, honest and disturbing.


Fred June 14, 2009 at 11:25 PM  

I don't think a writer really can develop a character in a short story, especially in seven pages such as you mentioned. The writer just doesn't have enough time to do that convincingly.

The writer, at best, can present one facet of that character, one that is significant with regards to the situation that character is in. The writer can then show the way that character will respond in that specific situation.

primavera123 June 15, 2009 at 4:54 AM  

Not having to flesh out every single aspect of a character is one of the great things about the short story format. With economy of words you can make a lovely sketch and allow the reader to imagine the details on his/her own. Sometimes a tantilizing glimpse is more interesting than 100 pages describing your character's childhood.

Jen June 15, 2009 at 5:03 AM  

Great review. Congrats on the "Blog of Note"

Myriam June 15, 2009 at 9:51 AM  

What you know if this book exist in french ?

Anonymous June 15, 2009 at 2:13 PM  

Interesting . . . it reminds me of a story about an artist that painted old tudor buildings in villages of Britain. He would set up his trestle outside their garden, without telling the owner what he was up to. It was his way of meeting and making new friends . . . cool. Visit my blog, John.

Melissa Monks June 16, 2009 at 5:23 AM  

I remember reading Raymond Carver in college and loving "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love". Our professor had us guess whether or not the two couples would still be together in a year. It's a testiment to Carver that with so little information we all came up with the same answer. Nope.

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Josephine June 16, 2009 at 1:05 PM  

Interesting and inspiring. I'm definitely coming back to your blog sooner or later.

Razz Esmeralda the kid! June 16, 2009 at 1:32 PM  

Hmm I never thought about things like that, but thanks to you I'm going to take books like that way more seriously.

Cheers & Congratz with your blog!

Andrea Hawkins June 16, 2009 at 3:09 PM  

The short story is an artform, and I enjoy them. i think some of the best charachters can be summed up in a short story. If a writer can't make a good convincing carachter in a short piece than maybe they aren't that talented.

Leo R. June 16, 2009 at 8:34 PM  

Great blog!!! I am german, too. I live in Potsdam.
When you can speak german (I think so) then visit
http://lion-art-blog.blogspot.com, my art - blog and submit a comment how you think about it. Or my very new book - blog, http://best-of-books-blog.blogspot.com.
Thank you - and congratulations on the BLOGS OF NOTE!!!


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Salman June 18, 2009 at 6:13 PM  

Nice blog keep it up I love reading the reviews of all.


Anonymous June 19, 2009 at 5:57 AM  

i will look up this author. thanks

Danigirl22 June 19, 2009 at 7:36 PM  

Having studied some of Carter's literary works in my college literature class and having wrote my literary thesis paper on Raymond Carter's short story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love", it was interesting to read your comments on his works. I have to agree, that even though Carver's works are but short stories, his writing style does deliver a way of developing his characters. Carver is known for producing literature that relects the average struggling American. Furthermore, it is not so much what is directly being said, but what can be inferred upon by the things that are left unsaid, through body language or other means. This is especially true for the two characters of Mel and Terri.

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surekha tangri June 20, 2009 at 7:05 PM  

I was a short story person,but now I have moved on to novels but I must say,u have to be a very skillful writer ,to write short as it requires lot of effort to wind up things clearly in few lines ....

TBlaze June 21, 2009 at 3:38 PM  

I agree exactly with the comment of Danigirl22. So much attention in movies, TV and even books is given to a minute percentage of the American population. This tends to be the rich and beautiful but also one notices that the lowest, darkest levels of society also receive a lot of attention. Just think of all the cop and gang television shows. However, the US is really made up of all the gray area in between. Carver gives a voice to them and shows how the simplicity of their actions and emotions can be incredibly engaging.

Just--Me June 22, 2009 at 7:35 PM  

You're blog is awsome! Love reading it. And your reviews are fab xxx

Steve Ballmer June 23, 2009 at 5:32 AM  

Good blog, nicely done!

Juliette June 24, 2009 at 10:23 PM  

I have a job with a tiny salary of 80 crowns, and

an infinite eight to nine hours of work.

I devour the time outside of the office like a wild beast.

Someday I hope to sit in a chair in another

country, looking out the window at fields of sugarcane

or Mohammedan cemeteries.

I don’t complain about the work so much as about

the sluggishness of swampy time. The office hours

cannot be divided up! I feel the pressure

of the full eight or nine hours even in the last

half hour of the day. It’s like a train ride

lasting night and day. In the end you’re totally

crushed. You no longer thing about the straining

of the engine, or about the hills or

flat country, but ascribe all that’s happening

to your watch alone. The watch which you continually hold

in the palm of your hand. Then shake. And bring slowly

to your ear in disbelief.

-Raymond Carver 1985

This poem made me fall in love with Raymond Carver.

steve roggenbuck August 19, 2009 at 11:39 PM  

Thank you for this book review. I'm a poet who doesn't read many short stories, but I once read "What we talk about when we talk about love"--not the whole book, just that story--and I was blown away. By the end of the story, there's just so much there. I don't even know how to explain it. There's just a lot of feeling and emotion and nothing concrete to say about the feeling and emotion. just very powerful...

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