What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

What we talk about when we talk about lovebook by Raymond Carver

annotation by Aaron Gansky

I read this one before I read O’Connor’s work and loved it. First of all, it was a quick read, and in a month when I have three books to get through and six flash fiction pieces to write, I’m all about quick. But, above all else, Carver is sparse. I know my readers find “sparse” stories boring, but I love them. There’s something about them that makes them urgent, subtle, direct, pointed. It’s like being pleasantly poked in the chest (if something is possible, maybe by a loving grandparent who wants to tell you “the way it was,”). “Popular Mechanics” is still my favorite. It is chilling. Tied for “Most Chilling” award was “Tell the Women We’re Going.” What he does so masterfully is build tension quickly (though, in “Tell the Women We’re Going,” he takes much more time to develop the situation). The tension is then resolved in a way we wouldn’t expect, we’d hope never to see. And yet, there’s Carver, poking us in the chest. “Bill didn’t know what Jerry wanted. But it started and ended with a rock. Jerry used the same rock on both girls. First on the girl called Shannon, then on the girl that was supposed to be Bill’s.” Ugh.

I remember Rob Roberge’s class on creating tension and we looked at “Popular Mechanics” and talked about the passive voice and the idea that, in all reality, they may have torn this baby in half. As a father, I get physically ill each time I read this. But, for whatever reason, I read it. Maybe because it chills me. And really, isn’t that why we read?

I loved most of these, but I remember “A Serious Talk” as well. Here, the dramatic situation isn’t as great as the previous two (it’s not life-and-death, here, just a broken marriage). This type of writing seems to resonate with me, I think, partially, because of my insecurities. Divorce is so common. If, for whatever reason, my wife ever left me, I’d be the man in this story. Not out of control, but not in control at all. The passive aggressive guy who cuts the phone cord because that’s all he can think to do. The one who will, likely, feel bad for it later, but is powerless in his life. That’s how I’d be. That’s what makes this story sing—how real it is, how real it feels. Right to the point. Direct.

I’d like to spend some time criticizing Carver now. I’m sure there was something I didn’t like, or something I thought he could do better. Hmmm … There’s one story that he finished later. “The Bath” became “A Small Good Thing,” which I liked better because it took the story further. There were times I wanted the stories to go on, and other times where I thought it’d be too much. This is a very weak criticism, I know, but it’s only because I truly liked this book.


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