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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a book of short stories filled with characters of questionable actions and morals, which humanize them and teach the reader about the definition of love in different scenarios. In asking his readers to delve deeper into the psyches of his characters, Raymond Carver encourages the reader to evolve alternate methods of viewing certain lifestyles, choices, and mistakes. The authentic and flawed depictions of character traits and actions cause the reader to feel uncomfortable, pass judgement and relate at the same time. It’s through the messiness of his characters and their stories that the reader learns what love means to Carver.

Carver uses character traits and flaws to develop thoughts and emotions of disdain and familiarity in the reader, which ultimately make a statement about the nature of love. In creating a jarring and raw picture of the lives people lead and mistakes they make, Carver makes the reader consider concepts, which are normally kept below the surface, ignored, or not discussed. Each story in the collection contains characters who remind the reader of circumstances people try to hide from or escape: a disillusioned wife, an alcoholic father, a broken marriage, a man who cheats on his wife, or a death in the family. Carver depicts his characters so that the reader sees not only their mistakes, but also redeeming qualities, which make them relatable and human. Thus, in each seemingly dark circumstance the reader sees the possibilities for love are countless.

Carver’s stories are more authentic than a typical love story, conveying his unique message about love: that things aren’t always what they seem and nothing comes easy. Although his stories are not fairy tales with happy endings, the reader is moved to feel and think deeply about the relationships between and among Carver’s characters. The reader remembers that in reality everyone is flawed, struggling, and learning from errors. People drink, lie, and cheat, but that doesn’t mean we stop loving them. Carver shows the reader that true love means recognizing everyone makes mistakes, not judging, and forgiving.

In this book, Carver expertly writes stories, which seem melancholy at first, but give readers insight into capacities for love and forgiveness we might not realize we possess. When we define love, it’s not all about living happily ever after, it’s the everyday struggles as well. We have an amazing capacity to forgive others, to choose love. At the heart of the text is the reminder that love exists in many different forms.

 Final Star Rating 4 out of 5 Stars