Alcohol Ruins Lives: As Shown By Raymond Carver’s Short Stories
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver. Named “One of the true contemporary masters,” by Robert Towers of The New York Times Review of Books, Carver creates fiction that opens the reader’s eyes to a seldom spoken of, but all too real, part of American life. Alcoholism, and its ability to destroy families and escalate domestic disputes into violence, was a common theme throughout Carver’s short stories. Though there are many equally powerful themes in all of the stories, alcoholism is the driving force behind most of the misfortune in “Gazebo” and “A Serious Talk.”
“Gazebo” opens with a married couple whose relationship is on the brink of collapse. Both alcoholics, Duane and Holly struggle to maintain a motel that they had decided to manage years earlier. Duane, probably as a result of his alcoholism, had gone outside the marriage with a maid named Juanita. As a result, Holly had lost all her will to be married to Duane, as well as her will to live. Carver describes the couple, locked in one of the motel rooms, drinking and arguing over each others’ faults and marital discrepancies. The story ends when Holly reminisces about a time when Duane and she had visited the house of an elderly couple that they didn’t know to ask for a drink of water. She remembers how Duane and she had imagined that someday they, too, would grow old and have a house of their own. Then perhaps some young couple would come to call on them for a glass of water just as they had done. “Gazebo” shows just how many hopes and dreams alcoholism can take away. Illustrating this point, Carver writes, "There was this funny thing of anything could happen now that we realized everything had" (27). By writing in the first person from Duane’s point of view, Carver shows how Duane feels that their lives have been expended, that any plans they might have had were now so far out of reach that they are impossible. The couple’s drinking problem is the obvious culprit, as Carver describes the couple’s usual decision making process: “Drinking’s funny. When I look back on it, all of our important decisions have been figured out when we were drinking. Even when we talked about having to cut back on our drinking, we’d be sitting at the kitchen table or out at the picnic table with a six pack or whiskey” (25). Since most of the couple’s important life decisions were made under the influence of alcohol, any of their sober aspirations remain impossible unless they change their lifestyle. With Duane’s betrayal destroying their marriage, any hope of restraining their drinking habit is probably long gone, and the story leaves the couple drowning in their own misery. Though the story is sad, just as most of Carver’s stories tend to be, it really sheds light on alcohol’s ability to destroy lives, as well as perpetuate actions that drive people to drink more. Alcohol addiction even leads one to consider drastic actions such as suicide; just as Holly tries to jump out the window in “Gazebo.”
Howard C. Becker, Ph.D, author of a paper published by the Alcohol Research & Health division of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, attests to alcohol’s life destroying and addictive nature. In his paper titled, “Alcohol Dependence, Withdrawal, and Relapse,” Becker focusses on the viscious cycles that alcoholism can lead one into. According to Dr. Becker, heavy drinking not only perpetuates a dependence for alcohol, but also increases a heavy drinker’s likelihood to relapse as a reaction to stressful situations when compared to light or non-drinkers. “Clinical studies demonstrated that alcoholdependent people are more sensitive to relapse-provoking cues and stimuli than nondependent people” (Becker). Such behavior is of the sort that people like Duane and Holly allowed to grow until consuming alcohol became not only an obsession, but their entire life...
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