Study Guide

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Drugs and Alcohol

By Raymond Carver

Drugs and Alcohol

There was an ice bucket on the table. The gin and tonic water kept going around, and we somehow got on the subject of love. (3)

We all know that alcohol loosens tongues, and these two couples are no exception. So is it the gin that got them on the subject of love, or were they headed there anyway?

She poured the last of the gin into her glass and waggled the bottle. Mel got up and went to the cupboard. He took down another bottle. (41)

This is at the halfway point in the story. The move from the first bottle of gin to the second signals a move from Ed's story to that of the elderly couple. Plus, cracking open the second bottle reminds us readers that these characters are far from sober. So we should listen carefully to their words, and take them all with a grain or two of salt.

"I'm not on call today," Mel said. "Let me remind you of that. I am not on call," he said. (61)

Mel justifies his drinking, and implies that it's not a regular thing with him, or at least that he doesn't drink on the job. The fact that he feels the need to remind anybody of anything is telling. Why's he so defensive? Maybe because he knows something's wrong.

"Come on now," Terri said. "Don't talk like you're drunk if you're not drunk."

"Just shut up for once in your life," Mel said very quietly. "Will you do me a favor and do that for a minute." (66-67)

Ouch! This is the second time Terri expresses concern over Mel's drinking and his response is hostile to say the least. Actually, it's just plain cruel. Some readers see Terri as badgering and nitpicking and see this moment as expressive of a serious problem in their relationship. But others see her as a concerned wife, who's deeply worried about her husband's habits.

"Drunk kid, teenager, plowed his dad's pickup into this camper with this old couple in it. […] The kid – eighteen, nineteen, something – he was DOA." (67)

This marks the beginning of Mel's example of true love, the elderly couple injured in this car accident. But it should also serve as a harsh reminder of the destructive side of alcohol. Sure, it loosens tongues and helps conversation, but it also kills, in more ways than one.

"He's depressed," Terri said. "Mel, why don't you take a pill?"

Mel shook his head. "I've taken everything there is."

"We all need a pill now and then," I said. (122-124)

The story doesn't talk much about drugs, but this sentence reveals that Mel is taking a variety of pills to deal with depression. It's yet another layer of the Mel onion, peeled back, and it makes us wonder: what's the root of his depression?

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