What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

by

Raymond Carver

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Nick Character Analysis

Nick is the narrator of the story; he’s Laura’s husband and Mel and Terri’s friend. Nick is 38, and though he doesn’t give away much about himself, it’s implied that he’s a lawyer (he and Laura, a legal secretary, “met in a professional capacity”). Nick and Laura have been together for 18 months, and they were both married to other people prior to their relationship. Unlike the other characters in the story, Nick doesn’t claim to know what love means, and he expresses his affection for Laura solely through nonverbal gestures like touching her leg or kissing her hand. Whereas Mel and Terri are set on coming to a precise definition and understanding of love, Nick is seemingly comfortable with having an emotional and bodily experience of romance without needing to analyze it. Indeed, toward the end of the story, the conversation has died down, and the characters are trying to decide what to do next. In this moment, Nick comments that he’d be content heading “right on out into the sunset”—and though he says this in passing, it’s symbolically significant. The diminishing sunlight in the kitchen where the four friends are talking parallels their gradually diminishing confidence and clarity about love, and Nick’s comment suggests that he isn’t afraid of this looming uncertainty. Ultimately, as everyone falls completely silent and sits still in the dark room, Nick hears their hearts beating together. This final image suggests that matters of the heart are indeed mysterious and unknowable, but that love is something universally and deeply felt.

Nick Quotes in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

The What We Talk About When We Talk About Love quotes below are all either spoken by Nick or refer to Nick. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Library of America edition of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love published in 2009.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Quotes

“He was dangerous,” Mel said. “If you call that love, you can have it.”

“It was love,” Terri said. “Sure, it’s abnormal in most people’s eyes. But he was willing to die for it. He did die for it.”

“I sure as hell wouldn’t call it love,” Mel said. “I mean, no one knows what he did it for. I’ve seen a lot of suicides, and I couldn’t say anyone ever knew what they did it for.”

Mel put his hands behind his neck and tilted his chair back. “I’m not interested in that kind of love,” he said. “If that’s love, you can have it.”

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Terri, Ed (Terri’s ex-boyfriend), Nick, Laura
Page Number: 313
Explanation and Analysis:

“Well, Nick and I know what love is,” Laura said. “For us, I mean,” Laura said. She bumped my knee with her knee. “You’re supposed to say something now,” Laura said, and turned her smile on me.

For an answer, I took Laura’s hand and raised it to my lips. I made a big production out of kissing her hand. Everyone was amused.

“We’re lucky,” I said.

Related Characters: Laura (speaker), Nick (speaker), Mel McGinnis, Terri, Ed (Terri’s ex-boyfriend)
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’ll tell you what real love is,” Mel said. “I mean, I’ll give you a good example. And then you can draw your own conclusions.” He poured more gin into his glass. He added an ice cube and a sliver of lime. We waited and sipped our drinks. Laura and I touched knees again. I put a hand on her warm thigh and left it there.

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Laura, Nick, Terri
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

“But sometimes I have a hard time accounting for the fact that I must have loved my first wife too. But I did, I know I did. So I suppose I am like Terri in that regard. Terri and Ed.” He thought about it and then he went on. “There was a time when I thought I loved my first wife more than life itself. But now I hate her guts. I do. How do you explain that? What happened to that love? What happened to it, is what I’d like to know. I wish someone could tell me. Then there’s Ed. Okay, we’re back to Ed. He loves Terri so much he tries to kill her and he winds up killing himself.”

Page Number: 315
Explanation and Analysis:

“Am I wrong? Am I way off base? Because I want you to set me straight if you think I’m wrong. I want to know. I mean, I don’t know anything, and I’m the first one to admit it.”

“Mel, for God’s sake,” Terri said. She reached out and took hold of his wrist. “Are you getting drunk? Honey? Are you drunk?”

“Honey, I’m just talking,” Mel said. “All right? I don’t have to be drunk to say what I think. I mean, we’re all just talking, right?” Mel said. He fixed his eyes on her.

“Sweetie, I’m not criticizing,” Terri said.

She picked up her glass.

“I’m not on call today,” Mel said. “Let me remind you of that. I am not on call,” he said.

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Terri (speaker), Nick, Laura
Page Number: 315-316
Explanation and Analysis:

“Vassals,” Terri said.

“What?” Mel said.

“Vassals,” Terri said. “They were called vassals, not vessels.”

“Vassals, vessels,” Mel said, “what the fuck’s the difference? You knew what I meant anyway. All right,” Mel said. “So I’m not educated. I learned my stuff. I’m a heart surgeon, sure, but I’m just a mechanic. I go in and I fuck around and I fix things. Shit,” Mel said.

Related Characters: Terri (speaker), Mel McGinnis (speaker), Nick, Laura
Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

“Well, the husband was very depressed for the longest while. Even after he found out that his wife was going to pull through, he was still very depressed. Not about the accident, though. I mean, the accident was one thing, but it wasn’t everything. I’d get up to his mouth-hole, you know, and he’d say no, it wasn’t the accident exactly but it was because he couldn’t see her through his eye-holes. He said that was what was making him feel so bad. Can you imagine? I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife.”

Mel looked around the table and shook his head at what he was going to say.

“I mean, it was killing the old fart just because he couldn’t look at the fucking woman.”

We all looked at Mel.

“Do you see what I’m saying?” he said.

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Terri, Nick, Laura
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

“There isn’t a day goes by that Mel doesn’t say he wishes she’d get married again. Or else die,” Terri said. “For one thing,” Terri said, “she’s bankrupting us. Mel says it’s just to spite him that she won’t get married again. She has a boyfriend who lives with her and the kids, so Mel is supporting the boyfriend too.”

“She’s allergic to bees,” Mel said. “If I’m not praying she’ll get married again, I’m praying she’ll get herself stung to death by a swarm of Ricking bees.”

“Shame on you,” Laura said.

“Bzzzzzzz,” Mel said, turning his fingers into bees and buzzing them at Terri’s throat. Then he let his hands drop all the way to his sides.

Related Characters: Terri (speaker), Mel McGinnis (speaker), Laura (speaker), Marjorie (Mel’s ex-wife), Nick
Page Number: 321
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’ll put out some cheese and crackers,” Terri said.

But Terri just sat there. She did not get up to get anything. Mel turned his glass over. He spilled it out on the table. “Gin’s gone,” Mel said.

Terri said, “Now what?”

I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.

Related Characters: Terri (speaker), Mel McGinnis (speaker), Nick, Laura
Related Symbols: Sunlight
Page Number: 321-322
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire What We Talk About When We Talk About Love LitChart as a printable PDF.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love PDF

Nick Character Timeline in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

The timeline below shows where the character Nick appears in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The narrator (whose name is later revealed to be Nick) is listening to his friend Mel McGinnis talk—others often let Mel speak simply because he’s... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Mel tells Nick and Laura that Terri’s ex-boyfriend threatened to kill him. Finishing his drink, Mel reaches for... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Mel asks Nick and Laura what they think, and Nick replies that he wouldn’t know—he never met Ed.... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
...reminds her. At this, Terri implores Mel to at least admit that Ed loved her. Nick interjects to ask how, exactly, Ed botched his suicide. Laura looks at Mel and Terri... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Mel tells Nick and Laura that Ed had used a .22 caliber pistol to shoot himself—the same one... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
...urges Mel to get back to the topic of the botched suicide. At this point, Nick gives a brief aside that Laura is a legal secretary. The two of them met... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Laura says that she and Nick know what love is—for them, at least. Smiling, she bumps Nick’s knee with hers and... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...more gin, and the others sip their drinks as they wait for him to speak. Nick rests his hand on Laura’s thigh. (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...Mel goes on a long diatribe about love. He says that he loves Terri, and Nick loves Laura, both sexually and emotionally. But he struggles with how to reconcile the love... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...her as though he can’t recognize her. Then, he replies that he loves Laura and Nick too, and he picks up his glass. (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...who were injured in a terrible car accident on the highway. Terri looks anxiously at Nick and Laura, and then back at Mel. Mel passes the gin around the table. (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...mechanic who fixes things. Terri tells him that he’s unsuited for modesty. Changing the subject, Nick says that knights sometimes overheated in their suits of armor, dying of suffocation or exhaustion-induced... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The sunlight in the room has grown dimmer. Laura and Nick urge Mel to continue his story, and Terri jokes that the old couple is just... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Nick thinks that perhaps he and are his friends are a little drunk by this time.... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...call his kids, and he suggests that the four of them go to dinner instead. Nick says that sounds fine—whether they eat or keep drinking, he’ll be content either way. “I... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...gone. Terri asks what they should do now, but they all just sit in silence. Nick hears everyone’s heart beating in a chorus of “human noise,” none of them moving even... (full context)