Literary Critique - What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Raymond Carver
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An Unromantic Epiphany

In Raymond Carver’s 1981 story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” a group of friends discuss domestic violence and the meaning of love over gin and tonic.

The most significant character is Terri, a woman deluded into believing her ex-boyfriend beat her because he loved her. Rather than behaving as a victim and accusing the abuser of harming her, she condones his actions in the mistaken notion that the more passionate the relationship, the rougher the lover.

Terri’s husband remarks, “Terri’s a romantic. Terri’s of the kick-me-so-I’ll-know-you-love-me-school.”

Carver may not have wanted to induce laughter when he created this sidekick of a spouse, but these two characters bounce dialogue off each other in a deadpan, humorous delivery. Eventually, her destructive ex committed suicide. “It was love,” Terri said. “Sure, it’s abnormal in most people’s eyes. But he was willing to die for it. He did die for it.”

Terri exhibits masochistic tendencies and cannot accept the reality that hatred is associated with physical abuse, not love. Perhaps she adored her ex-boyfriend and couldn’t handle his possessiveness outbursts without rationalizing.