I have read this story so many times, trying to make sense of it. Trying to glean the what I can from the dialogue–the majority of the piece. However, it still alludes me at times.
If you’ve never read this piece, you should certainly do so. It’s short–or at least, it’s a quick read. Takes a couple minutes and it’s one of the most profound short stories there is. Four people sit around a table drinking. That’s it. That’s the whole story. But what is remarkable about this piece is the way in which Carver captures the reluctance and doubt people have when they try to express and put into words, complex ideas that strain the limits of the English language. There are some concepts that English is simply not suited to describe and love is perhaps the most obvious one. Do we equate actions that we see on TV, in magazines, and other media forms and then act in those ways when we think we are in love?
While the piece deals with love, its ultimate goal deals with meaning. What we talk about when we talk about meaning, is perhaps a more apt title for the piece. However, most people might not get that.
What this piece does that I’ve never seen in any other piece, is steadily up the tension between the four people at the table without anything other than the dialogue really taking place in terms of action. While there is a recurring narrative conversation in the piece, Carver shows the character’s humanity through their detours of other topics. He juxtaposes their moods with not only their conversation but also with the light that slowly slides through the kitchen over the hours. By the end, there is no doubt, despite the lack of action, that something within all the characters present has changed.