WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT LOVE by Raymond Carver
Kirkus Star

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT LOVE

STORIES

KIRKUS REVIEW

Carver's spare voice remains distinctive in this new collection of stories (Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, 1977, was his first). Scary in how quickly they unfold, the stories prove to contain within their small dimensions a frequent radicalism of emotion, a back-against-the-wall-ness that's startling. The speech-like titles--"Why Don't You Dance?," "Tell the Women We're Going," "I Could See the Smallest Things," "One More Thing"--act as false reassurances, dishes from under which Carver yanks the tablecloth. Domestic situations--mostly of leaving, of disappointing--predominate, narrated often in the form of one character telling another a story of self-compromise which neither of them can wholly bear. The very best stories here--"The Bath" (a dying child, the eerie spaces he clears) and "After the Denim" (an elderly couple and a hippie couple at bingo night, with the utter impossibility of ever lining lives up parallel)--both suggest, nearly unforgettably, that the most dangerous thing that any of us own is the past. "What people won't do!" comments an innocent, if vacuous, lover in the title story--and you sense Carver in the background, knowing all too well what people will do. Yet for all the true lugubrious anarchy we're so economically reminded of here, Carver's fiction may be less original than it seems. Dependent on a Jack Benny-ish deadpan, on the ironic situation that bends itself in two and then can't be re-straightened, Carver is essentially writing John O'Hara stories--but with all the water wrung out. The dialogue is faultlessly non-sequitur; the characters are often simultaneously released and terse (thanks to liquor); violence is daily and unremarkable. These are stories, in other words, strictly about mores, not morals--and if looked at in the long literary view, they can seem thin, sneakily sentimental, all tone. Still, as artifacts of American culture right this minute, they are mightily impressive and, at their best, invested with a fiercely humane pathos.
Pub Date: April 20th, 1981
ISBN: 0679723056
Page count: 180pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1981




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