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Love is in the Air

The story is straightforwardly written by the author and it makes the story feel more simplistic, easy to follow, and allows the reader to focus more on the character. Ha Jin intertwines his Chinese culture with the English language. The story should be done like this because the setting is in Mao-era China. However, his story doesn’t require too much context when it comes to understanding the plot because the historical context has nothing to do with it. At the same time, he makes the setting realistic and natural, which makes prevents separation between the characters and their surroundings.

Kang’s obsession in the girl is strange as it could be experienced in real life. What I am interested in is the absence of the girl’s actual person, and how Ha Jin chooses to keep her name a secret until the end of the story. This decision by the author makes Kang’s infatuation with her much more unique, as it heightens his pettiness over his love for a voice. The addition of a love triangle provides another conflict to Kang’s story, as he feels like he is being challenged by Shi’s existence. He knows that the latter is younger, better looking, and comes from a better background than him, and Ha Jin’s inclusion of such information shows us the realization that Kang acknowledges about Shi.

Kang himself is a well-rounded character with a believable personality. He is naive, delusional, and pitiful. His delusion comes from fantasizing about the body to the ‘voice’ of the transmitter; he is naive because he has childish views on love; he is pitiful because of all the other traits. Regardless of what you feel about Kang, the way Ha Jin writes him makes him a sorry character.

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Love in the Air

The phrase “love is in the air,” takes a very literal connotation in Ha Jin’s creation of the relationship between Kang and Lili. But we never get any sort of perspective from Lili so it seems to be an entirely one sided relationship. The tone of the story almost seemed comical, but in an unintentional way. The description of Kang’s “froggy eyes,” and his “square thumbs,” adds to his innocence and his child-like, naive behavior. He truly has no concept of intimacy or of flirtation, or even of women in general. The description of what Lili might look like through Kang’s eyes and his back and forth inner dialogue about women adds to his boyish cluelessness. He only describes already unattainable celebrities, and he tries to reason with himself, but comes to the same conclusion: none are as good as Lili. I found these comparisons funny because Kang doesn’t know these women either, in fact he might know more about the woman through the transmitter.

Kang also seems to be somewhat irrational and melodramatic, he even admits to himself that “he hated his own listless voice.” He becomes winey and ridden with anxiety, all over a woman he has only heard and not seen. I found the ending of the story to be somewhat abrupt but not necessarily surprising. Kang describes Shi Wei as a strapping and wealthy young man; stiff competition for scraggly Kang. But Wei’s relationship with Lili has nothing to do with his appearance, he is simply more forward. Collectively, I found the story to be odd and interesting. Kang is an incredibly emotional character, overwhelmed with what he believes to be “love,” but is essentially left in a position of despair and confusion.

“Love in the Air” by Ha Jin captured the soldiers very well, in a very heartbreaking way. The soldiers were all depicted as young men, so young that they don’t even know if women have hair on their bodies, who are so lonely they will fall in love with a voice, or lose their position over the mention of a woman in the area. It’s heartbreaking how these characters have a sense of hope when it comes to this woman and it’s heartbreaking that they are so lonely they need this sense of hope to continue on.  

The plot of this story is very interesting, a man falling in love with the voice of a woman he is telegraphing in the army. It automatically creates a forbidden love when he is limited to saying only necessary words for her, or the Russians could find him. His chances with her are zero because of the nature of their situation. Conversing is so forbidden he can’t even ask her name. The plot itself creates a perfect amount of tension and creates some very real stakes for the narrator, something that can be hard to do in a story. This story also does not have a lot of action. It is mostly reflective, the narrator thinking. In a few places there is some dialogue, but there is not a lot of movement. The interesting plot and the tension created by the plot are necessary to keep the story from being stagnant and dull.

I really appreciate that the narrator never talks to her again and never meets her at all. It makes it realistic. In this situation, if he had talked to her, called her, found out her name on his own, it would have felt fake, forced, too easy. But that doesn’t happen. He’s a soldier, not a knight in a fairy tale, and the sad ending is necessary. It was also necessary for Shi to be caught and punished for his behavior. It is again heartbreaking when the narrator thinks the woman is now fickle and he feels angry towards her for talking to Shi. It shows just how much he has placed her up a pedestal, because of his loneliness and youngness, and how far his thoughts and obsession have progressed.

In Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” the fact that the four main character are drinking is effective; it sets a tone of honesty and lack of pretense, while also giving insight to their closeness as friends. The dialogue reminds us of their condition, particularly Mel’s, on the bottom of page 145 and beyond through little bits of “drunk dialogue.”
Terri and Mel’s relationship, and perhaps love on a broader scale, is illustrated through their back and forth reactions. Mel, very bitingly, tells Terri to shut up for once on page 146, but then there is romance between the two on page 147 and so-on and so-forth.
It is clear through the randomness of their accounts of love that they really know nothing about love. They tell stories about relationships, but not love explicitly. As as side note, I once heard the last line in a movie and have been so in love with it ever since, although I can’t find a way to explain why.

In “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” Raymond Carver does something very interesting when he makes the decision to write in first person yet never really let the narrator speak.  The story is seen through the eyes of Nick, yet we never really hear from Nick or ever get as much information about him as we do the other characters.  On top of that, most of the story is dialogue and it is dialogue from Mel, Terri, and occasionally Laura.  This choice puts more focus on the characters than anything else.  There is the setting, which Nick mentions a few times, but because this is mostly dialogue it makes you really focus on who these characters are and what they are talking about.

What is also interesting about the setting is that the story never moves.  The characters never get up and go anywhere.  They do not get up and go to dinner like they say they will.  They do not even realize, except for Nick, that the sun has gone down.  This does not stop the story from going anywhere though.  Carver puts you in the heads of his characters so that setting does not have to change.  You are with Mel when he is talking about the older patients that were in the car crash and you are with Terri when she talks about Ed.  Carver almost puts a scene inside a scene and somehow makes it work so that the story moves while staying still.

 

 

Over the course of the semester I’ve learned that the first line of any story is normally incredibly important, this story is no different. “My friend Mel McGinnis was talking.” Already we know that the story is going to be told from the first person perspective (the narrator being Nick), and that Mel, presumably, talks a lot. As the story continues Mel does in fact do a majority of the talking and he seems to develop into a pompous and arrogant character. The “we” in the title of the story led me to believe that a number of people would give their own interpretation of love, but before Nick and Laura can even get a word in edgewise, Mel has interrupted them in his drunken stupor. The tone of the story is mostly comical and I found myself laughing at Mel’s overbearing presence, that is until the alcohol really seemed to set in. Terri says to Mel, “Don’t talk like you’re drunk if you’re not drunk,” to which he responds, “Just shut up for once in your life.” But Carver doesn’t follow up with “Mel joked,” or “Mel said lovingly.” Earlier in the story Mel repeatedly interrupts Terri to inform her that her past relationship was abusive and dangerous. While Ed does seem to be a nutcase, I’d argue that the relationship between Terri and Mel isn’t particularly healthy either (or maybe Mel needs to take a break from the gin).

Initially I wasn’t sure what to make of the relationship between Laura and Nick, but maybe the pure fact that they are more observant than responsive speaks volumes about their love for each other. Their love is shown not in words or phrases or even in “I love you’s,” but in gestures. Nick places his hand on her thigh, he holds her and describes her as “warm,” on more than one occasion. It seems there is so much more to say from the things unsaid.

Raymond Carver’s ” What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” uses the interesting narrative choice of have a large portion of the story being the characters telling each other and discussing stories of their lives. This gives the impression that the characters are actual people who have lives and experiences. It also allows for the opportunity to discuss the different types of love and what even counts as love, as with Terri’s abusive ex-lover who kills himself. Carver also pays close attention to detail, such as describing the specific jewelry Terri wears and the details of Laura’s hand. This attention to detail allows the readers to visualize the characters which, in turn, gives them more life.

The author immediately directs our attention not to the narrator, but to the character Mel right at the beginning. Indeed, a majority of the story, while told in the first person, is more from the other characters rather than Nick the narrator. The story is structured in the way where there are more dialogue than details of action and description. What little description there is are meant to give us a small picture of what the setting is. In this story however, Carver shows us the setting isn’t important and would rather we zero in on the characters. The dialogue is important not just for characterization, but for plot, something that may not work in other stories but works in this one. The first line “My friend Mel McGinnis is talking” therefore, is insignificant at first, but it does show that Carver wants us to know that the narrator isn’t much of a central character, the others are.

Terri is shown to be a rather odd character, who still believes that her previous husband loves her through his abuse of her. Mel, on the other hand, is more realistic and points out that that is not love. I love the foil between the two different characters because one doesn’t understand a healthy love while the other knows that love shouldn’t be abusive. This is actually a fairly simple point in the story, but adds much to the characterization of both Terri and Mel. I also think Carver uses Nick the narrator as some kind of bridge between us the reader and the other characters. At the same time, Nick is also a character as much as Terri, Mel, and Laura because he is given the task of being the reader’s looking glass.

The usage of dialogue in this story gives us insight into the history of the character more than what the characters are going through at the present. More than likely, us readers would be more interested in the past of these people because if the author chooses to write them as they are in the present, then it would be boring, flat, and dull. Within the dialogues are actually mini-stories in themselves, such as Terri’s previous boyfriend/husband and Mel’s situation with the elderly couple. Yet, all of these stories are something about love, so the entire story can be called a love story, but not in the conventional way.

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Something that struck me about this story was how well-done the dialogue was, which is very essential since this story was mostly dialogue. From the very beginning of the story it’s clear that this is going to be mostly dialogue, the narrator says that his friend Mel is talking in the very first sentence. When the main action and conflict of a story comes purely through the dialogue of some people sitting around a table, drinking gin, the dialogue really needs to be right. In this case, it was. It felt very real, it read like someone was actually speaking, instead of feeling forced or fake. The different characters also had different traits within their pieces of dialogue, much like people do in real life.

Throughout the story there is movement to the conversation, which is an accurate depiction of real life conversations. One character will address the group, then will address their spouse, and then another member of the group. This happens on nearly every page, with interjections between the actual spoken dialogue telling the reader who is being addressed. In real conversations this is very much what happens. In the story, this is represented to the reader without being overwhelming.

The actual words of the dialogue also read like someone truly speaking. Sometimes dialogue comes off as speech-like, or too informative, too stiff or awkward, and that detracts from the characters and the story, especially in a story like this, where dialogue really makes up the story. But these characters say things like “oh” and “I mean,” things that people actually put into their conversations. In Mel’s speech on 140-141 he sounds like a real person talking. He says “Oh, I’m serious” which sounds very real, he asks rhetorical questions, which he then answers himself, he varies his sentence length. He uses common phrases that people put into their stories like “I mean, the man was crazy” and “little things like that” and “I’m telling you.” Little details like that make the dialogue seem real which then makes the characters seem real. The characters also sometimes go on tangents in the middle of dialogue or add details that don’t necessarily pertain to the most important aspect of what they are saying, like it just popped into their heads mid-sentence. This is all very realistic of what real people sound like when they are talking and it is very well-done throughout the story.

What I really appreciated about this piece is it’s a love story that is also about the caring/loving yet emotionally injured nature of the protagonist. There is, in the story, platonic love, maternal love, and romantic love. What I found effective about this piece is how the interior thought that states the current situation and explains the past is interwoven with the dialogue. This technique helps give what is said greater weight and allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the characters and how they interact with each other and how their pasts paint how they talk and interact with each other.

The dialogue is incredibly raw and dark and not so pretty, but that does not negate the tender side of the protagonist and her mature love for her husband and her former lover/friend. We know she is an avid gardener by her concern for her tomatoes and by the writer’s use of precise language concerning the crops themselves. Her love of gardening is also used to show her feelings about the loss of her home.

Though the story deals with suicide, it also deals with the aftermath of attempted suicide and suicidal ideation, including the effects one might not think about.

I also thought the title was effective because some of the tension comes from her fear of Robert falling. Falling and the fear associated with it also illustrate the precarious states the characters are in both mentally and physically.

The lines I liked were “Drugs. I have no use for them, not the illegal stuff Jonas and the kids used to cook up in my house without my knowing, not the drugs doctors might prescribe a woman like me, if i was fool enough to present my deteriorating form to one of them.” It’s sad but it also does a duel job of showing the passage of time and showing us what kind of person she is. She seems like such a caring person that she sometimes sacrifices her own sanity and well-being to take care of others who can’t take care of themselves.  There is a romantic relationship in this story, but it is wildly co-dependent and in some regards lonely. They are lonely within themselves.

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