On the surface, this is a story of two couples drinking gin and talking about love by telling stories. But Mel refuses her this, saying “I sure as hell wouldn’t call it love” (142); he too claims ownership of the story because Terri’s first husband had threatened his life several times.
As Charles May explains, through their stories the characters “encounter those most basic mysteries of human experience that cannot be explained by rational means” (40), including the intricate connection between love and violence. As Mel imbibes, he becomes less playful, less eager to reconcile their difference, and the tension mounts.
In the same essay, Carver notes, “I like it when there is some feeling of threat or sense of menace in short stories . This essay will explore the many levels on which alcohol functions to enhance emotional expression and to create tension, a “sense of menace,” in four of Carver’s short stories.
Analyzing the relationship between alcohol, emotion, and tension provides a key to the central conflict in these stories, for alcohol consumption is usually parallel and proportional to the rising action, leading to the stories’ most emotionally profound climaxes.
Alcohol often acts as a social lubricant, creating emotional bonds among strangers or acquaintances, releasing the characters’ inhibitions and allowing them to reveal their deep fears and tensions in the stories they tell in their drunken state.
Paradoxically, however, the characters’ loss of control while under the influence of alcohol can also menace or destroy emotional bonds, relationships, and even bodies and lives.In “On Writing,” Carver insists that in a short story, “what creates tension . But it’s also the things that are left out, that are implied, the landscape just under the smooth (but sometimes broken and unsettled) surface of things” (17).This suggests that critics who respond solely to the characters’ consumption of alcohol to blunt or evade emotion on the “surface of things” miss much of the emotional tension created or revealed by alcohol underneath the “visible action” of the story. There has to be tension, a sense that something is imminent” (17).A self-avowed “fan of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories” (“Fires” 19), Carver also saturates his stories with alcohol; his characters often consume inordinate amounts of alcohol and generally struggle with emotional expression.Do Carver’s inebriated and/or alcoholic characters drink to evade emotional connections?As he drinks, Mel becomes more and more loquacious, gradually revealing his deep fears about the impermanence of love—and the permanence of death. He now defines love as “physical” and “sentimental,” and no longer uses the word “spiritual;” he begins favoring .At the beginning of the story, when he is sober, Mel insists that “real love is nothing less than spiritual love” (137), but later he asks, “What do any of us really know about love? Ultimately, the purpose of Mel’s monologue is to come to terms with the fleeting nature of love and life.As Charles May notes in “‘Do You See What I’m Saying?’: The Inadequacy of Explanation and the Uses of Story in the Short Fiction of Raymond Carver,” literary “critics often complain that there is no depth in Carver, that his stories are all surface detail” (49).Nowhere is Carver’s desire to create “a sense that something is imminent” (“On Writing,” 17) more powerfully realized.Edna decides to give up everything to move back in with her ex-husband Wes, a recovering alcoholic.