Course Hero. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Study Guide." Course Hero. 6 Feb. 2018. Web. 20 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/What-We-Talk-About-When-We-Talk-About-Love/>.
Course Hero. (2018, February 6). What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/What-We-Talk-About-When-We-Talk-About-Love/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Study Guide." February 6, 2018. Accessed September 20, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/What-We-Talk-About-When-We-Talk-About-Love/.
Course Hero, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Study Guide," February 6, 2018, accessed September 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/What-We-Talk-About-When-We-Talk-About-Love/.
A young woman visits her father at Christmas and asks to hear a story about her childhood. She is "a survivor from top to bottom." Her father wonders "what else" he can tell her and decides upon an incident from her infancy, which involves her "only in a minor way." He begins to narrate a story about his own life, using the third person and referring to himself as "the boy" and his wife as "the girl," collectively as "kids."
Early in their marriage, when they were still teenagers in love and their baby was three months old, the boy received an invitation to go hunting the following day, with an old family friend named Carl. The girl gave her cheerful consent, but that night the baby kept them both up with repeated fussing. Unable to soothe the baby, the girl became deeply distressed, while the boy brushed it off as a stomachache and got ready to leave for the hunting trip. The girl confronted him as he was preparing to leave: "I'm your wife. This is your baby. She's sick or something." Shocked he would consider going, she issues an ultimatum: "You're going to have to choose ... Carl or us. I mean it." The boy starts the car to go but reconsiders and goes back inside, where his wife and infant are sleeping peacefully.
When the girl wakes, husband and wife exchange apologies. She makes him a waffle with butter, syrup, and bacon, the whole plate of which he promptly knocks into his lap. He jumps up but the food sticks to his underwear. "If you could see yourself," the girl remarks, amused, and he does: "The boy looked down at himself, at everything stuck to his underwear." They laugh and embrace, promising they "won't fight anymore."
The story thus concluded, the man tells his daughter, "I admit it's not much of a story," but she insists she found it interesting. He expresses amazement at how much his life has changed. The girl starts to say something but instead leaves to change clothes. Standing by the window, the man reflects on the early day of his marriage: "They had leaned on each other and laughed until the tears had come" he remembers, and "everything else—the cold, and where he'd go in it—was outside, for a while anyway."
The title "Everything Stuck to Him" is a metaphor comparing the syrupy waffle clinging to the boy's long underwear to his position as the center of the family unit. The syrup-covered waffle evokes sweetness, comfort, domesticity, and caring, as long as it is on the plate where it belongs. In this way it is like being part of a family, which is a wonderful thing as long as everyone works together like they should. But just as the waffle becomes an annoying sticky mess when it falls off the plate, being part of a family can feel like a trap and a burden when the needs of the family conflict with an individual's desires. This theme is at the heart of the story.
Carver nests the story of the boy, girl, and baby inside the story of the man and his daughter at Christmas. This juxtaposition of a past moment with a present moment in the life of this family invites the reader to consider what might have happened in the intervening years. We know the family has been fractured, but Carver only gives clues: readers don't know where the wife/mother is, and why she isn't present; why the girl is "a survivor, from top to bottom"; whether the father's mention of his youthful crush on his teenaged wife's beautiful sisters has something to do with it. While the man claims not to understand why things have changed for the worse, the daughter seems to know why. She starts to speak about this but then silences and excuses herself. It is Christmas, after all—better to let a story about sweetness and familial love stand on its own than to let such a lovely memory segue into a painful examination of the crises that came later.