Saturday 15 January 2022

Review by Tim Grayson of "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" by Raymond Carver

It's amazing how the great 'realist' writers manage to say so much, with so little. Carver's short story collection is like this, and as real as it gets (unflinchingly so, at times). All of his stories are set in the real world, the situations are realistic (sometimes tragically so), and his characters could easily be our family, friends, acquaintances or strangers we pass on the street. 

The title of the collection (also the title of a short story in the book) is deceptive, as it's not all about love, or what we talk about when we talk about love. Rather, it's focused on a myriad of human relationships: family, friends, acquaintances, and even the relationships between strangers. It's almost as if these stories act as a type of keyhole, through which the reader can peek to see a glimpse of these imperfect lives, and then, when the story ends, the keyhole is blocked off, leaving us sitting in the dark.

For such a short book, it contains a variety of tales, some better than others, some darker than others, some longer than others, but all are charged with such emotional intensity that they'll grab you by the shirt and won't let you go until you finish them. Often, I found myself putting down the book, breathing a sigh of relief, immediately searching for and reading an analysis, and then just sitting there, closed book in hand, thinking about the characters' lives, and the consequences of their actions over and over.

It's written in such a simplistic, straightforward style that anyone could (and should) read it, but just because the stories are relatively short and easy to read, don't let that fool you into thinking it's a 'light' read. It's not. There's so much bubbling beneath the surface here that it deserves time, and respect. As mentioned, I often found myself finishing a story, putting the book down, thinking about it for hours afterwards, and then returning for another hit.

In short: it's simple writing, functional, and yet so incredibly powerful. Like all good ideas.

About the reviewer
Tim Grayson (born 1987) is the poet-in-residence at Belvoir Castle and something of a polymath, with experience in the arts, technology, politics, game design, submission wrestling, fencing, live events and more. He lives in Leicester (UK) with his wife and two children. His work and projects have taken him all over the globe.

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