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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Raymond Carver

Plot and Carver’s Slices of Life

Dialogue

Dirty Realism

Carver’s stories are often called “slices of life” because they reveal glimpses of everyday life instead of featuring conventional plots. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is indicative of this style—there is no action to speak of or change of setting, and nothing seems to really happen besides conversation over drinks. Nevertheless, such slices of life are still genuine stories because they feature clear beginnings, middles, and conclusions. More important, Carver’s slice-of-life stories invariably conclude with a change in character or understanding, which is key to any piece of fiction. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” for example, opens in a bright room, with a full bottle of gin, and with a brand-new conversation topic: love. The middle of the story has the light fading, the gin almost gone, and a muddled, confused discussion about the true meaning of love. The story concludes with four drunken, blurry characters sitting in a dark room with no more gin, unable to continue the conversation. Although nothing has happened in the conventional sense, the discussion has made the narrator aware of his companions’ humanity. Love may not have been defined, but the discussion of it—and their eventual realization that the true meaning of love will remain elusive—has brought the narrator to this pensive moment.

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