The dirty-realism school of writing became popular in the 1980s thanks to a group of writers who began writing about middle-class characters who faced disappointments, heartbreaks, and harsh truths in their ordinary lives. Granta, a highly regarded literary journal, coined the term dirty realism in 1983 when it published its eighth issue, which featured writers from this school. Granta 8, as the issue became known, included stories by Angela Carter, Bobbie Ann Mason, Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver, and many others. Although each of these dirty-realism writers has a distinctive style, they are connected by their sparse prose, simple language with few adjectives or adverbs and direct descriptions of ordinary people and events. Much of the fiction published in the New Yorker, where many of these writers were and are still published, is of the dirty-realism school, but today the term—as well as the practice—has somewhat fallen out of fashion. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” was published in 1981, at the height of the dirty-realism movement, and the story is often regarded as the prime example of the form.
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