Alice Munro builds her stories the way Jackson in her story Train renovates the barn and the farmhouse. She finds a good foundation and then repairs and builds the walls and then works on a sound ceiling. You are willingly trapped in the story, and yet you are free to go. There are no doors. At times, there is no foundation, she just waves her hands and behold, there is a house!
I just finished reading Dear Life (Penguin 2012).
The stories are snippets from, before and soon after the Second World War, and of the mid twentieth century - my favourite era.
Her characters are real- from day to day life. At times, they look like me, like you and you wonder if you had ever met her, if she had seen you inside out – from up close, close enough to know you and to write about you.
Some of the male characters you hate but you love. Harris is the poet Greta’s longing who surprises her by reaching Union Station. Howard is the crafty architect who eats his cake, has it, and stashes some for the future too. Uncle Jasper is the expert doctor and the imposing husband. Another doctor decides to marry the young teacher, and chickens out at the last moment to abandon her, eventually bumping into her years later on a Toronto street.
“For me, it was the same as when I left Amundsen, the train dragging me still dazed and full of disbelief.
Nothing changes really about love.” (Amundsen)
Her women are marvelous. Lilian - the supposed blackmailer, Corrie - the blackmailed, Greta - the passionate poet married to an engineer, Aunt Dawn- the repressed housewife – I love the scope of Munro’s vision. Leah, the shy girl who somehow unexpectedly transforms as the scandal maker, a villain and the temptress; and ‘my mother’ who with her two children, leaves her loving but boring husband to go to live in a trailer for an exciting life with Neal, the theatre artist who eventually abandons her with a new born baby – both are unrepentant but lonely. Belle, the lonely farm girl, amazes you when she reveals that she has been an alumnus of Bishop Strachan School, and her father had been a reporter for The Toronto Evening Telegram and an unpublished novelist.
And I have not talked about many others. Somehow her women emerge stronger than her male characters. Is she biased?
For four days, my house did remain unkempt, food was hurriedly cooked, shower postponed with excuses of ‘just another story and then I am going,’ and kids not yelled at for watching endless episodes of Pokemon or staying on Facebook well past their curfew time – that is what your pen does in my life, Ms Munro.
Its all about -
“She was a certain kind of woman, he a certain kind of man”.