Freed of all of his inhibitions by alcohol, Mel reveals his true, bleak, frightening perception of love: “if something happened to one of us tomorrow, I think the other one, the other person, would grieve for a while, you know, but then the surviving party would go out and love again, have someone else soon enough.
All this, all of this love we’re talking about, it would just be a memory” (145).
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.
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).As a result of his drunkenness, we are exposed to a tension within him as he struggles with his idealized and realistic concepts of love, as well as with the terror of impermanence and death.Mel acknowledges his own confusion about love as he introduces the other story-within-the-story, but has great difficulty conveying the emotional meaning of this story because alcohol progressively blurs his speech and thought processes. Alcohol has interfered with his thought process so significantly that he cannot articulate the emotional significance of his story; he can only ask, “Do you see what I’m saying? He cannot explain that this is an example of the more permanent love he yearns for but fears he may never experience.His language, the “concrete word,” becomes crude and vulgar as he tries to prove his point about true love: “Even after he found out that his wife was going to pull through, he was still very depressed . The story ends abruptly, almost theatrically, when the gin runs out.Carver provides no resolution to the tension revealed under the influence of alcohol; he leaves the characters in the dark, listening only to their hearts beat.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?I knew better, but after a month of being with Wes in Chef’s house, I put my wedding ring back on” (28). P.’s marriage to the love of his life, his happy home and children, and the job of his dreams.Their bliss, threatened by the menace of Wes’s thin grasp on sobriety, is disrupted when Chef informs Wes that they must move out of the house so that his daughter can move in. Most threatening of all, neither man can understand why he threw it all away.This concept of ephemeral love differs markedly from the permanence, profoundness, and eternal devotion associated with spiritual love, and is drawn forth from Mel as a result of his drunkenness.Although Mel insists that he is sober, that “I don’t have to be drunk to say what I think. ” (145), he actually does need alcohol to say what he really thinks.