The first lines of Raymond Carver’s story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” are already interesting, since they introduce Mel McGinnis, who is talking. He’s a cardiologist, and so “sometimes that gives him the right.” Straight away, we as the readers are left with the questions: Why does being a cardiologist give him the right to speak, and what is he speaking about?
Anyway, for the next couple of pages, the author introduces the other three characters, who are Laura, Terri, and Nick. Terri is Mel’s second wife, whereas Nick and Laura are newly married. The pairs are talking about love, which is something Mel seems to always have on his mind, according to Terri. Mel talks about love like he’s an expert on it, like it’s a concrete thing he can grasp and master. The entire story is Mel talking with the other three, sharing his personal truths about love, and telling stories relating to this.
I find this story interesting for a number of reasons, the first being that it is so realistic and human. I say that about most things I read, and maybe that’s because I prefer to read things that actually have the possibility of happening. The constant concern for Mel’s sobriety in Terri’s voice and Laura’s bewilderment and Nick’s observant tendencies are all very organic, and I find that incredibly interesting. Another reason I enjoy this story so much is because it isn’t a bunch of teenagers sitting around, drinking illegal alcohol and talking about love. The characters are adults, well into their lives and careers, who know a thing or two about love. Mel is very clearly speaking from experience, and Terri is countering with her own experiences. Finally, the last reason I like this story so much is the small bits of setting and characterization details placed here and there in order to transition scenes. For reference, when the group moves outside after toasting to “true love,” the author writes that the characters “grinned at each other like children who had agreed on something forbidden,” which is a brilliant way to describe them. Another detail I admired that shows the passage of time and the setting of the sun is “the sunshine inside the room was different now, changing, getting thinner.” I didn’t know how to describe the look and feel of late afternoon-early evening light before this, but I find this detail to be ridiculously accurate while also sounding really nice.
While reading this story, I felt sad, simply put. Really, I was upset. I was a mixture of intense negative emotions as I read Mel McGinnis talk about love. By the end, they’re all drunk and depressed, and I felt sort of the same way, minus the actual drinking. I think that the reason I felt this was partly due to the author’s writing style, and partly due to Mel’s beliefs on love. I think that he’s exhausted and morose and he conveys that with what he says, in turn projecting those feelings on the reader.
I’m absolutely going to be imitating styles from this story in my own writing. I adore pieces written like this, mostly dialogue and when there are details, they’re so in-depth and accurate and beautiful. I like the phrases I mentioned earlier, but I also really enjoy the first two lines:
MY friend Mel McGinnis was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right.
This line reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it,” which is another one of my favorite lines. I like the simplicity of lines like this, I like that they say exactly what the story is going to be about in two sentences or even less. I find that I usually drag out what I’m trying to say in opening lines, so lines like this are what I’m going to strive for.