Thursday, June 3, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

First, my apologies to all who have been waiting for this review, and to Madsie in particular. The delay was all mine, and I'm sorry. I try to do better in the future and can only claim "real life intervention" as the cause of my tardiness. Sorry!

That being said, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver is a really good collection of short stories. Short stories are difficult to write and demanding for the reader, but Carver managed to carry the overall themes and growth through the individually complete stories. Going from love and the different forms of love to losing and fear and moral complexities, and from those to love again, Carver kept the story evolving, even when there was no apparent link between the different bits.

At the beginning, with Why Don't You Dance? and the girl and the boy buying the furniture from the man and Gazebo, the story of the motel managers, in particular I started thinking of what is this love we talk of so easily. We're all accustomed to the furry-animals-and-singing-trees Disney-version of happily-ever-after-love, that we keep idealizing it. We think the love we should reach for is some pure and perfect state where everything is in harmony and no one's ever cross with each other.

Guess what? First off, that doesn't exist. Secondly, that'd be really boring. Sacks, the story of a grown-up son meeting with his dad on the airport was particularly touching in that it wasn't about perfection. Far from it, it was about loving despite the imperfections. The story also changed the tone into that of more complex issues, issues of acceptance and understanding and right and wrong. The following stories, the one about the birthday boy being hit by a car and the one about the two married men following the girls with the bike set the reader to think of love as a breeding ground for moral issues. In effect, on how to settle a conflict between love and morality.

Yet Carver keeps the tone light, and the story approachable. The writing's easy and the story flows. You're there, in the story. There's so much in these stories, yet reading them feels like... well, like watching your friends or family. Simple, easy and effortless. The true emotional impact it all gives you is beneath the surface.

I liked these, I really did. And I think there's few short stories that are going to stay with me for a while. The one about the old couple at the bingo, for instance.

Well... I've got my own confession to make so I'm more than willing to accept Ii's apology. I couldn't find a copy of the book and opted for the translation. I was half way down the book when I happened to notice that actually it wasn't a translation of What we talk about when we talk about love  (although that was the exact translation) but a collection of Carver's short stories from three different volumes (one of being the one I was actually supposed to read). However, they were all short stories by Raymond Carver so I let this one slide even though technically I didn't read exactly the right book.

Anyhow, about the book. I liked it and I like Carver's style. Made me think of Edgar Allan Poe for some reason. (Is that just weird??) I loved the fact that the stories weren't too easy, everything was not spelled out and it provoked thought in the reader. In my volume there was also the novel about the birthday boy, it was really touching. And yet not sad in the same build up kind of way as when in a novel when one of the key figures die. Somehow it was more real, if you know what I mean, like how something like that would play out in the real world.

The book was very easy and quick to read yet the impact of the stories stays with the reader for a long time. I love it when a book makes you think. The story doesn't end with the book but goes on in the imagination of the reader. In most of the stories the thoughts of the characters were hinted upon but not spelled out and it was left for the reader to decide what really is the motivation behind actions and words. Also many of the stories were more moments than stories, the reader is left wondering what happened next, what were the characters really feeling inside.

All in all, thought provoking yet at the same time easy reading.

I'm glad you liked it too! I haven't read Poe (well, a little bit in years pine-cone and cow maybe) so I can't say how much the styles are the same. Carver's style did remind me of some of the Japanese or Chinese literature I've read; those too have been very simple stylistically and easy to read. It's only after a while that you realize "hey, there was a whole lot happening there!"

Next up, Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky. This should be completely different, and I can't wait. Do join us and let us know what you think of the book!