Alice Munro (2001) Hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage. (2013) Dear Life.
Posted by celticman on Sun, 10 Nov 2013
I had heard of the Nobel Prize, but hadn’t heard of Alice Munro, sometimes these two things meet with a bang (oh dear). Each short story in the collections are long enough, or short enough, dependent on your mood, to read in one sitting. They are the ideal length. Time often opens out, between one paragraph and another, into ten, fifteen, thirty or forty years. In ‘Train’ for example Jackson scrapes his leg when jumping from a train, the next stop Clover. It’s the end of The Second World War and he’s a soldier coming home, but the reader doesn’t know to what. Walking the tracks, climbing over the rail fence, he’s held at bay by a Jersey Cow called Margaret Rose. It’s a dilapidated holding with a buggy and horse in the barn. He stays with Belle, the owner, for thirty or forty years. Jackson buys a car and takes Belle to hospital in Toronto for treatment, goes for a walk and never returns. A poetic volta is often which makes a good story special and this is no different. Jackson and Belle’s neighbours are Mennonites. References to obscure Christian sects often crop up in Munro’s stories. In Corrie, for example, Corrie and her married lover are blackmailed by her housekeeper, years later she finds out the blackmail money was used to build a church. Often when reading such a collection, if it’s any good, you think in terms of this must have really happened to her, this character must be the real Munro. She is a ventriloquist with many small town third person voices, learning about themselves and remembering what it was like before they moved to a big town like Toronto. In the opening story of‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage’, for example, Johanna, a housekeeper to an older man wants to ship a dining room table and six chairs by train to Gdynia, a place so obscure the station agent hasn’t even heard of it. ‘Her teeth were crowded to the front of her mouth as if they were ready for an argument’. She’s set her hat on marrying a man she has briefly met, but she counts on his letters to her, but they’ve been forged by the adolescent girl she’s taking care of an her sly pal. They’re mocking her and Johanna doesn’t even know it. We the reader do. Again there’s that twist that turns the story round and makes it special. I’ll be reading more of Alice Munro.