What We Talk About When We Talk About Love | Study Guide

Raymond Carver

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Course Hero, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Study Guide," February 6, 2018, accessed May 21, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/What-We-Talk-About-When-We-Talk-About-Love/.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love | Gazebo | Summary

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Summary

The narrator, Duane, tells the story of his marriage to Holly and how it ended. The two have locked themselves in a suite in the motel where they live and work and are spending the day drinking, having sex, and hashing out their problems. Holly claims he has broken her heart and tries to jump out the window. He keeps her from doing this but has nothing to say for the broken heart she claims he has given her. "I'm no good anymore," she says. His only response is to say Holly's name, yet Duane repeatedly tells the reader, "I feel so awful from one thing and the other."

Shifting from present to past tense, the narrator describes how landing the motel gig gave him and Holly hope for a bright future. Things changed when Holly hired a Mexican woman, Juanita, to clean the rooms. "She was a neat little thing with fine white teeth," Duane remembers, recalling he "used to watch her mouth." At first Juanita called Duane "Mister." Their affair began right after she called him by his name for the first time.

The narrative shifts back to present tense, to the conversation with Holly in the suite. They ignore the customers outside and the ringing phone that demands their attention. Holly accuses Duane of thinking of Juanita while they had sex earlier that day; his response is, once again, to say Holly's name. She accuses him of going "outside the marriage," which has killed her trust. He kneels and begs Holly while preoccupied with thoughts of Juanita. "This is awful," he tells the reader. "I don't know what's going to happen to me or to anyone else in the world." Holly declares she will go to Nevada or kill herself, and Duane "can stay here with [his] cleaning woman." She becomes petulant and demands another drink.

Duane reflects on the role of alcohol in his marriage. "All of our important decisions have been figured out when we were drinking," he admits. When Holly asks Duane whether he and Juanita had sex in the bed she now sits on, Duane realizes the marriage is over. "I don't have anything to say. I feel all out of words inside," he tells the reader and waits for Holly to speak. "Holly was my own true love," he adds.

Shifting back to past tense, Duane minimizes the affair with Juana: "We were sweet with each other, but swift. It was fine." He insists Holly should have tried to accept it but notes they both began drinking heavily and ignoring their work duties. On the day Duane has been describing, he and Holly had both realized they were "at the end of something." Their apathy and despair briefly transformed into a sense of lightness and freedom: "there was this funny thing of anything could happen now that we realized everything had."

Holly begins to reminisce about the early days of their relationship, "when we had big plans and hopes." She begins to speculate she has missed out on life by taking her marriage vows seriously. Duane tries to silence her, asking "What is it we should do?" "Listen," she says and begins to speak of a day, long ago, when they were joyriding through the countryside and stopped at a house to ask for water. The old couple received them hospitably, and the old woman told Holly the gazebo in the backyard, now overgrown, used to be a place where musicians played for the community each Sunday. Holly tells Duane she thought their lives as adults would be like that: "Dignified. And in a place. And people would come to our door." She does not react to Duane's playful suggestion that in the future, they will look back on their days in the motel nostalgically. After a while she says Duane's name. Duane closes the story by remarking to the reader: "In this, too, she was right."

Analysis

"Gazebo," like many of the stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, is a nested story. Nesting is a method of framing a narrative, where the narrator in the story in turn tells his own story. There are two layers of nested story at play here. Duane's story of the breakdown of his marriage with Holly frames Holly's narrative reminiscence about the old folks and their gazebo. This double-nested structure brings Holly to life for the reader by allowing her to speak in her own voice. In this way it underscores the importance of Holly's perspective in the story Duane tells.

For Holly the gazebo symbolizes an ideal adulthood that reality has failed to deliver. The structure itself is made to stand for the kinds of things that happen inside it. The gazebo, with its open sides, suggests the openness, transparency, and outgoing qualities of a marriage founded on mutual trust and understanding. In contrast, the motel where Holly and Duane live fosters deception, secrecy, and shame. These qualities arise in part because of the structure of the motel itself. It is a collection of private spaces each sequestered from the others by a locking door and windowless walls. In fact, the structure of the motel determines the occurrence and manner of the affair between Duane and Juanita. "It was in whatever unit she was in when she was making her cleaning rounds," Duane says. "I'd just walk in ... and shut the door behind me."

Duane doesn't want to lose Holly, and his desire to hold on to her is expressed in terms of the motel. When she tries to jump out the window, he pulls her back in. When she speaks of the gazebo, he misunderstands her symbolism and instead attempts to convince her she will one day remember the slime-filled motel pool with a similar fondness.

But by speaking of the gazebo, Holly has harnessed the power of narrative to free herself. Earlier, drunk and suicidal, her attempt at jumping from the window seemed like the self-destruction of the betrayed. Through its juxtaposition with the story of the gazebo Holly's attempted jump reads like a symbolic attempt to escape the motel and, by extension, the painful wreckage of her marriage, made more painful by Duane's insistence to her nothing was actually wrecked.

It is only in the narrative's actual present, after Holly has left him, Duane begins to come to terms with his betrayal and his loss. His acceptance is still in the early stages, however, for he can only allude to what pains him most with vague language like "the one thing and the other" and "in this, too, Holly was right." Holly, though absent, is the one who speaks aloud the heart of the matter. She is a part of Duane's past yet so vividly present he couches her in the present tense.

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