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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

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"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"

Raymond Carver's style seems to be "less is more," and so, his stories often have a simple central theme that holds them together, and the characters are quite realistic, just as in "What we Talk About When we Talk About Love," this short story, the four characters are quite different from each other, and yet, the central theme of love binds them all together, yet keeps them somehow distanced from each other.

Although we can't easily define love or always understand love, these four characters agree that we know it when we see it (or feel it). The story calls to mind just a few of the many forms of love--romantic, intellectual, sensual, and spiritual--and poses a perplexing question: Which kind of love is the most genuine? Mel McGinnis, the emotionally scarred surgeon, is an intriguing character. This doctor may be a master of cardiac anatomy, but he is no expert on matters of the heart. Mel, for his part, presents the story's central question -- what is love -- because like the rest of the group he is imbued with a sense of loss, of regret, of unutterable sadness, for reasons he can not quite describe. He feels instinctively that it has something to do with love, and he's right in a way; it has everything to do with passion. In his mind he has the perfect picture of love just like the story he told the other three characters of the old couple that no matter what situation were in just wanted to be there for each other and stand by each other forever. For Mel that IS real love being able to show and have that sort of affection for your significant other. Mel is an angry character because he has been married twice and figures he did love his first wife and does love his current wife but he doesn't feel that he has discovered and felt the kind of love he wants.

Mel's wife, Terri, on the other hand, insists that it was. She has led a much less sheltered life and is also much less self-righteous than Mel; she understands that while objectively Ed could be regarded as sadistic, dangerous, and pathological, he operated out of a reservoir of strong emotion that was simply incapable of channeling itself in socially-acceptable ways. This strong emotion, when turned toward other human beings, erupted in violence. This is why he beat his wife and eventually committed suicide. provides her own case of real love. She previously lived with a man named Ed who professed his affection for Terri the entire time he was beating her. After she left him for Mel, Ed attempted suicide, first by ingesting rat poison and later by shooting himself in the mouth. Terri insisted on being in the room when Ed died because she felt even though to most every other human being in the world, especially her husband Mel, that Ed simply and truly loved Terri. He loved Terri so much it killed him, literally. Her perception of love is simply doing anything for that person, even if it does involve that violence. Although it seems absolutely absurd she feels that she has experienced in a way what true love is, what love can be, and she experienced that with Ed; which of course upsets Mel so much. Immediately Carver has created some kind of conflict with the theme of love, because he has shown the readers that although, Mel and Terri have said they loved each other there is a space between them, which has to do with love. They each perceive love differently because they have had different experiences, yet they are together and they feel that they are in love.

The other couple at the table, Nick, the narrator, and his wife, Laura, also thinks they know what true love is, but they have difficulty articulating its essence. For their perception of love is exactly what they have, the "puppy



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