What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is the name of both a collection of short stories and the name of a story from this collection by American writer Raymond Carver.

Storylines from several of the stories appear in Robert Altman's film "Short Cuts".

The Short Story

The story itself is about 4 people, Mel, Teresa (Terri), Laura, and Nick.The setting is in Mel's house around a table with a bucket of ice in the middle. A bottle of gin is inside of it. They soon start to talk about love (as the title suggests). Terri was in an abusive relationship to which she said was done from love. Her abusive boyfriend eventually commits suicide after two attempts (done out of love as stated by Terri). Soon afterwards Mel begins a story about an older couple who lived from a car accident due to wearing seat belts while the DUI teen (18-19), who caused the crash died. He goes off topic and later comes back to it after some more talk about Ed (the abusive boyfriend). Afterwards they talk about going to dinner after finishing the second bottle of gin. Later after the lights go out Mel knocks over his glass, proclaiming, "Gin's gone," while everyone just sits there in the dark.

The Role Alcohol plays in the Story

When reading this story with the four characters: Mel, Teresa (Terri), Nick, and Laura one understands the obvious situation written of friends hanging out for the day and drinking gin. Their conversation revolves around the meaning of love; however, throughout the short story, alcohol is the driving force of their meeting and conversation on the subject of love. As the four characters consume more gin, the conversation becomes more passionate and somewhat verbally abusive, especially by Mel.

Mel, the cardiologist, does most of the talking in the story on the subject of love. Carver wrote in the first line of the story: “…sometimes that gives him the right.” It gives him the right to speak on matters of the heart or it gives him the right to get drunk and speak abusively toward his wife? As Mel consumes more gin, he gets a bit verbally abusive and disrespectful toward his wife Terri.

Metaphorically, Carver connected the weather (sunlight) to the character’s sobriety. Carver begins the story by giving a description of the four characters sitting in Mel’s kitchen and tells of how the “Sunlight filled the kitchen from the big window behind the sink.” Giving the reader the sense of how bright and clear the kitchen appeared and at the same time, giving the reader a metaphor that they, themselves, were still sober and clear in their thoughts and conversation “on the subject of love.” As time passed, and an additional bottle of gin was introduced to the table and “The afternoon sun was like a presence in this room, the spacious light of ease and generosity.” This quote gives the reader the impression that everyone in the story feels the gin, they all have a good buzz going now and the conversation of love keeps flowing with “ease.” By the end of the story, the sunlight is gone and so is their sobriety. “…the room went dark.”


"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" is actually a heavily edited version of Carver's original draft, "Beginners." His editor, Gordon Lish, cut out nearly half of Carver's story, adding in details of his own. Carver's version, released by his widow, Tess Gallagher, in December 2007 to The New Yorker magazine, shows the extensive, and sometimes apparently arbitrary edits. For instance, the character Mel was originally named Herb, and the abusive boyfriend, renamed Ed by Lish, was named Carl. In addition, Herb's story about the old couple was cut nearly in half, with Lish removing the sentimental story of the old couple's home life, love, and reunion in the hospital - in Carver's version, the two had separate rooms, which caused them to pine for each other and eventually led to a beautiful scene when they met again. Lish removed all of this, rewrote the couple into the same room, but in body casts that prevented themselves from seeing each other, and then explained the old man's distress thus:

""I mean, the accident was one thing, but it wasn't everything. I'd get up to his mouth-hole, you know, and he'd say no, it wasn't the accident exactly but it was because he couldn't see her through the eye-holes. He said that that was making him feel so bad. Can you imagine? I'm telling you, the man's heart was breaking because he couldn't turn his goddamn head and "see" his goddamn wife." Mel looked around the table and shook his head at what he was going to say. "I mean, it was killing the old fart just because he couldn't "look" at the fucking woman."

This changes the entire tone of the tale, as well as lending a darker and more callous edge to it. Furthermore, Lish cuts out eight paragraphs at the end in which Terri communicates her worry over Herb's depression to Laura and Nick, and another aspect of love is shown as Laura comforts Terri, tying together all the types of love discussed in the story.There was some contention over this story and several others in the collection between Carver and Lish, Carver complaining about the "surgical amputation and transplant that might make them someway fit into the carton so the lid will close." [Raymond Carver's story " [http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2007/12/24/071224fi_fiction_carver Beginners ] " and [http://www.newyorker.com/online/2007/12/24/071224on_onlineonly_carver Gordon Lish's edits of the story] to create its published version, entitled "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."] However, the story was still published with Lish's alterations, and the full story was not released until nearly twenty years after Carver's death in 1988.


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