What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a collection of short stories by American author, Raymond Carver (1938-1988).
It is a book about life and human beings, with all their flaws and all their problems. In a few pages, Carver paints a picture of the crude rural America. An America full of violence, frustrations, addictions, and broken dreams; an America unknown to those of us who only experience it through the lens of Hollywood.
Carver himself was an abusive alcoholic and thus the stories, the emotions and the sensations that he portrays are painfully real. He understands what those things can truly do to a person and to those who surround him.
The sad part is that these aren’t Carver’s stories as he intended to publish them. These were heavily altered by his editor, Gordon Lish, and the original stories did not see the light until years after his death and after his wife had fought for them to get published. They are found in a book called Beginners. I must say, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would, but it’d be interesting to read Beginners to see if it was Lish’s hand that made the difference.
“Now, I’m afraid, mortally afraid, I feel it, that if the book were to be published as it is in its present edited form, I may never write another story, that’s how closely, God Forbid, some of those stories are to my sense of regaining my health and mental well-being.”excerpt from Carver’s letter to Lish, 8 July 1980
Still, the eleven stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love are short, direct, and incredibly poignant. Be warned, though, they aren’t big on plot and they don’t have developed characters. They are simply glimpses into the life of normal people, pieces of their days, thoughts, and conversations.
Even though I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would, it has one of the most beautiful phrases I’ve ever read:
“I could hear my heart beating, I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”