2014-01-21

One Munro a Week

Last week I got started with my one New Year´s Resolution: to read one of Alice Munro´s short stories every week. Yep, that´s how great I think she is. I started with the collection "The Moons of Jupiter" from 1982 and the first story, "Chaddeleys and Flemings". It´s actually in two parts: "The Connection" and "The Stone in the Field", the first focused on the storyteller´s distaff side and the other on the male line of the family.

The Chaddeleys are represented by the mother´s cousins, four unmarried women, who all come visiting when the storyteller is still a little girl. This visit then becomes part of the family mythology, beginning with a grandfather from England who, everyone admits, was a bit of a posh and haughty jerk, but still someone whom everyone is rather proud of, speculating in what fancy origins he might have had before he fell upon hard times (he seems to have been a bit of a slacker, taking early retirement as soon as his children could support him).

When the storyteller is grownup and has a family of her own, one of the cousins come visiting, and we get a slightly different perspective on the childhood visit.
I was married to Richard then. 
She doesn´t have to write more than that to say that the marriage is bad. The theme of this story is, to me anyway, how strong the desire to magnify one´s own importance can be, and how tempting it is to set aside normal decency and step on others to elevate oneself.

The other story is about the father´s family, the Flemings, which also consists of a group of unmarried women, the aunts, who live in an old farmhouse in the country, completely cut out from the modern world and impossible to communicate with. Their silence provokes the idea that they have secrets, and there is speculation that an Austrian immigrant who died on their property had been one of the sister´s lover. But as the storyteller grows older she starts doubting:
Now I no longer believe that people´s secrets are defined and communicable, or their feelings full-blown and easy to recognize. 
A few days after I finish the story, I also realize that these two families, united by the marriage of the storyteller´s parents, represent the mentality of two kinds of immigrants to Canada: the adventurers, or those who wanted possibilities they weren´t allowed in the old country because of their place in a more rigid society; and those who left their homeland because the only option was to starve to death.

Munro was in 1982 already so skilled at those dense sentences that express so much.
...my mother drove. That made the whole expedition feel uncertain, the weight wrongly distributed. 
Yes, there is enough on these few pages for another author to write two novels. And those of my friends who didn´t much enjoy her latest collection, "Dear Life", I think would enjoy this better, as it is more of a traditional story.

7 comments:

  1. thank you for this. i've heard of munro but haven't sought her out. i don't read many short stories, but i'll look at our local bookseller and see what they have by her.

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    1. I think you´ll like her; she is both earnest and humorous, and isn´t humour the best way to face life at its grimmest?

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    2. humor or screaming, one or the other ;)

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    3. Or both, one after the other...

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  2. Off to check out Alice Munro!

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  3. Thanks for this. I read this post, found me a story by her called Dimension in the New Yorker and you're right: she is that great. :)

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