Literature Annotations


Carver, Raymond
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love


Genre Short Story (16 pp.)
KeywordsCommunication, Depression, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Domestic Violence, Love, Memory, Suffering, Suicide, Surgery, Survival
Summary

Two couples drink gin and discuss the meaning of love. Mel McGinnis, a 45-year-old cardiac surgeon, does most of the talking. As an example of bona fide love, Mel describes an elderly couple he treated in the hospital. They were severely injured in a motor vehicle accident and, despite great odds, managed to survive. What bothered the old man the most during his lengthy recovery was his inability to simply look at his spouse.

Mel’s wife, Terri, provides her own case of real love. She previously lived with a man named Ed who professed his affection for Terri the entire time he was beating her. After she left him for Mel, Ed attempted suicide--first by ingesting rat poison and later by shooting himself in the mouth. Terri insisted on being in the room when Ed died.

The other couple at the table, Nick (the narrator) and his wife, Laura, also think they know what true love is, but they have difficulty articulating its essence. After the gin has finally run out and the room gets dark, Nick is acutely aware of the sound of his heart and everyone else’s too.

Commentary

Although we can’t easily define love or always understand love, these four characters agree that we know it when we see it (or feel it). The story calls to mind just a few of the many forms of love--romantic, intellectual, sensual, and spiritual--and poses a perplexing question: Which kind of love is the most genuine? Mel McGinnis, the emotionally scarred surgeon, is an intriguing character. This doctor may be a master of cardiac anatomy, but he is no expert on matters of the heart.

SourceWhere I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories
PublisherVintage Contemporaries
Edition1989
Place PublishedNew York
Annotated by Miksanek, Tony
Date of Entry 08/02/05