It was not love at first sight between me and Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. On my part, at least.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is the book club’s book of the month to celebrate the love month. It is a collection of 17 short stories and my very first foray into dirty realism. Dirty realism is a genre in literature defined by Wikipedia as “the fiction of a new generation of American authors. They write about the belly-side of contemporary life – a deserted husband, an unwed mother, a car thief, a pickpocket, a drug addict – but they write about it with a disturbing detachment, at times verging on comedy. Understated, ironic, sometimes savage, but insistently compassionate, these stories constitute a new voice in fiction.”
The plan for the read-along divided the stories into 4 parts, 4 stories for a week, with the last week finishing off with the last 5 stories. First story in, and I was already frustrated with the ending. The writing was sparse and ambiguous, the kind of stories that I was not used to, and I felt short-changed. Or maybe, I was not really in the mood that time to be very introspective because I just finished reading a contemporary young-adult book which was the exact opposite: straight-forward and not bitin. I had to struggle with the stories in the first part of the reading plan but when I read Gazebo, I started to really get interested. After all, almost all of my trusted friends in the book club have glowing reviews about this anthology.
I’m glad I stuck to the reading plan. If I’d given in to the impulse of speed-reading, I would have totally missed out on such an awesome reading experience. It was too tempting to finish the entire collection in just one sitting. The stories were very short, and words employed were simple. Though the choice of words were basic, I could not say the same for the meaning of the stories. As I’ve said, I was complaining about the stories and my lack of comprehension during the first part of the reading plan. But halfway through the book, my feelings changed. The stories of Raymond Carver takes time to get used to, and when I finally got the hang of his style, I began to appreciate the stories more.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is composed of stories about ordinary people living ordinary lives, and of how they have loved or experienced love. The love portrayed in the story is not your usual warm, fluffy, rainbows-and-butterflies love, but the kind of love that’s left when all the romance is gone. The stories were bleak and melancholic, but because most had ambiguous ending, I can choose to think about a more cheerful ending. Haha. Some stories such as After The Denim left me brooding for a few moments. And there were some like Popular Mechanics which tore my heart apart. If I were to pick my top 5 favorite stories, the list would include the following:
- Gazebo. “But we had stopped caring, and that’s a fact. We knew our days were numbered. We had fouled our lives and we were getting ready for a shake up.”
- The Bath. “He wanted to say something else. But there was no saying what it should be. He took her hand and put it in his lap. This made him feel better. It made him feel he was saying something.”
- After The Denim.”If only they had to sit with him in the waiting room! He’d tell them what to expect! He’d set those floozies straight! He’d tell them what was waiting for you after the denim and the earrings, after touching each other and cheating at games.”
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. “’What do any of us really know about love?’ Mel said. ‘It seems to me we’re just beginners at love.’”
- Everything Stuck To Him. “Things change, he says. I don’t know how they do. But they do without you realizing it or wanting them to.”
All in all, I liked What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Sure, the stories were a bit unexpected and way out of my usual cup of tea, but I’m glad about my reading experience. After all, it’s not always that I get to talk about love like this.
My copy: ebook