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 November 14, 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 November 14, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/What-We-Talk-About-When-We-Talk-About-Love/.

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



Why Don't You Dance?

Following the breakup of his relationship, a man puts all his belongings in his yard, set up like they were in his house. A young couple stops, thinking they've found a yard sale, and the three drink together. The man and girl dance together, and the girl tells him he must be desperate. She later recounts the anecdote repeatedly but cannot find a way to express what was meaningful about the encounter.


A man with claws for hands comes to the narrator's door to sell him a picture of his house. He expresses his sympathy for the narrator, who in turn asks him to take more photographs. Finally, the narrator climbs atop the roof and demands the man photograph him as he hurls rocks.

Mr. Coffee and Mr. Fixit

A man describes how his life was crazy when he was drinking heavily and his wife was openly carrying on an affair with a man she met at Alcoholics Anonymous. He mockingly calls this man, Ross, "Mr. Fixit." His wife has since returned, and things have gotten better.


The narrator Duane struggles to unburden himself as he confesses how he ruined his marriage to Holly by having an affair with the cleaning woman at the motel where he and Holly lived and worked. At the end of their relationship Duane and Holly are drinking and having a serious talk when Holly tries to jump out the window. Duane restrains her, and she tells a story about a gazebo, which symbolizes how she is disappointed in her life with Duane.

I Could See the Smallest Things

The sound of the gate opening one night draws the anxious female narrator out of her house. She encounters her estranged neighbor, Sam, who is out killing slugs. Sam indicates he'd like to repair his friendship with her husband, which ended after a drunken argument.


A man meets with his estranged father in an airport lounge, and his father unburdens the story of his affair, which led to the breakup of his own marriage. The father meets his son with a sack of candy, a gift for his son's family, which he urges his son not to forget. After listening disinterestedly to his father's confession, the son parts stiffly from his father, forgetting the sack of candy.

The Bath

On the day of his birthday party an eight-year-old boy falls into a coma. The doctors insist he is merely sleeping, and the parents wait in confusion and fear for their son to wake up. When the father goes home to take a bath, the phone rings repeatedly as the baker who made the boy's birthday cake demands payment.

Tell the Women We're Going

Jerry and Bill have been best friends since childhood and now have respectable working-class lives full of work and family duties. One Sunday Jerry and Bill go for a drive, and when Jerry spots some girls on bicycles, he insists they try to have sex with them. With Bill following along passively, Jerry stalks the girls up a mountain where he violates them with a rock.

After the Denim

James Packer is thrown into despair when his normal Friday night bingo routine is challenged by the presence of a young couple in denim. James watches the young man cheat and win, and things go from bad to worse when his wife, Edith, finds evidence she is about to miscarry. James wishes he could destroy the illusory happiness of the young couple in denim by telling them how life is full of suffering and tragedy.

So Much Water So Close to Home

The first-person narrator has jarring realizations about her husband's moral compass after her husband and his buddies go fishing in the mountains and encounter a female corpse. Instead of immediately notifying the authorities, they tie the dead girl to a tree and carry on with their vacation. Her husband's insistence he did nothing wrong makes the woman feel as if she could experience the same fate as the dead girl.

The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off

The narrator describes the death of Dummy, his father Del's friend, who is a mute eccentric with a cheating wife. Dummy loves his fish, which he gets at Del's suggestion and raises in a pond. He is not the same after he gets the fish, and when a flood carries them out of his pond, Dummy kills his wife and drowns himself. The narrator muses this sequence of events contributed to the death of his father.

A Serious Talk

Burt's destructive and alcoholic behavior has estranged him from his wife, who has kicked him out and moved on into a new relationship. Burt is unable to accept the end of his marriage and persuades his wife they need to talk. However, Burt can only express himself by symbolically damaging and stealing the things in his wife's house.

The Calm

The narrator describes a story he heard while sitting in a barber's chair. One customer told a story wherein he failed to trap a deer he had shot, blaming it on his son. The other men are offended, but when tension rises, the barber intervenes. The other men leave one by one, and the barber and narrator share a calm and tender moment wherein the narrator decides to make a major life change.

Popular Mechanics

A man is packing to leave his wife and child when he decides he wants to take the infant with him. The wife refuses, and a struggle ensues in the kitchen as each fights to take physical control of the screaming infant. They each pull on the baby with all their might, and the narrator concludes, "in this manner, the matter was decided."

Everything Stuck to Him

A father tells his grown daughter an anecdote that happened when she was an infant and he and the girl's mother were just teenagers in love. After a sleepless night where the baby fussed repeatedly, the mother insists the father must choose between his family and the planned hunting trip. The father ends up choosing his family, but the love and warmth that characterized this period was short-lived.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Two couples sit around the kitchen table, drinking and talking about the meaning of love. They each present their ideas of what love means to them, which inadvertently reflects on their happiness in their present relationship. As they become drunk, the conversation deteriorates into bickering and silliness. At the end they have failed to come to any consensus about what love is.

One More Thing

Maxine kicks her husband, LD, out of the house because he is drunk and arguing inappropriately with their teenage daughter Rae. LD throws a jar through the window and then puts everything he can possibly fit into his wife's old suitcase. Standing before his wife and daughter who regard him coldly, LD claims he wants to say "just one more thing," but does not know what it is.

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