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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is Raymond Carver's second collection of short stories, published five years after he achieved critical success with 1976's collection Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? In his essay "On Writing," first published in the New York Times in 1981 prior to the release of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Carver explained how his proclivity for reading and writing short fiction (and poems) arose. "My attention span had gone out on me," Carver wrote, adding he "no longer had the patience to try to write novels." Until the last few years of his life Carver struggled with poverty and finances, and the need to support himself and his two children necessitated he work a series of unskilled jobs. These duties no doubt contributed to the diminishing attention span Carver describes. He sums up his approach in three terse sentences: "Get in, get out. Don't linger. Go on." The stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love exemplify Carver's terse, minimalist style. Their subject matter reflects his own life, and his characters struggle with love, family, drinking, and poverty, just as Carver did. The stories are simple on the surface but viscerally evoke the struggle to contain, communicate, and understand one's own existential despair―the psychological suffering related to a person's struggle to understand the nature of existence, the meaning of life, and one's purpose in life.
The stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love are told from a variety of perspectives. Stories such as "So Much Water So Close to Home" and "I Could See the Smallest Things" feature first-person narrators who are characters in the stories. Other stories, such as "The Calm" and "Sacks," have two narrators or perspectives because of their nested structure (one story is contained within the other). "Tell the Women We're Going" features a biased third-person narrator who has access to more than one character's point of view, while "The Bath" and "Popular Mechanics" juxtapose detached, terse, third-person narration with emotionally difficult subject matter. By using a variety of narrative techniques, Raymond Carver not only displays his mastery of the short-story form, but he creates specific linkages between a story's perspective and its thematic purpose.
The title of the book What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is also the title of one of the stories. The themes of love and communication are woven throughout each story, revealing the variety of experiences, emotions, expectations, and intentions hidden inside the inadequacy of the word love. Love remains shifting and elusive, and this causes misunderstanding and pain.
This study guide and infographic for Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love offer summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.