20 07 2007

I’ve started reading short stories as my pre-Bedfordshire reading. It worked fairly well with my first selection – Vinyl Cafe Diaries. For my second selection I turned to some Alice Munro. I don’t have her newest collection, but I had Runaway on the to-be-read-shelves so I settled on it.

I’m having some trouble with it. I’m stuck actually.

I should begin by saying I’m a very big fan of Munro’s earlier work and my favourite collection is her very first (Dance of the Happy Shades). My favourite of her stories – “Red Dress – 1946” – is in that collection. There is a feeling of looking back and nostalgia about those stories, no matter how unpleasant the details remembered are. I find Runaway different though. It’s hard even to put in words the change, but there does seem a definite and even conscious shift away from something.

The story that has given me pause, that has stopped me in my tracks is “Soon.” Overall, I wasn’t overwhelmed by this story or by the two that came before it. What stopped me was the ending, the final two pages.

In case you haven’t read the story and don’t want the ending spoiled please stop reading here.

Juliet (the main female character in this and the previous story) has just had an argument with the minister about faith. Her mother Sara then discusses her faith with Juliet, explaining that it is more complicated. She tells her daughter:

“I can’t describe it. But it’s – all I can say – it’s something. It’s a – wondering – something. When it gets really bad for me – when it gets so bad I – you know what I think then? I think, all right, I think – Soon. Soon I’ll see Juliet.”

At first it seems Sara cannot put a name or a label on her faith, describing it simply as “something.” But she reveals at the end of this passage that her faith is connected to Juliet, to expecting to see (versus actually seeing) Juliet.

This isn’t the end of the story – in the final section Munro focuses on the concept of home and Juliet thinking about home and where home is when she returns for Sara’s funeral. Juliet admits in this section to the reader that she had not responded to Sara’s statement about faith. Juliet thinks, “it’s what happens at home that you try to protect, as best you can, for as long as you can,” but then admits she didn’t protect Sara when she had the chance. She talks about how simple it would have been to respond to her mother, to acknowledge her. She also realizes how much it would have meant to her mother and that it would have cost her (Juliet) so little effort to say something in response.

It is that denial that struck me the most, that unwillingness to say something so simple and so needed, especially, most especially when it would cause us so little pain or take so little effort. It is that battle between protecting home, what or who we consider our home and denying those closest to us the most simple and profound necessities. Of being faced with such love and faith in us, and deciding to turn away, to be unable or unwilling to return that same kind of affection, of not being capable of equal affection and wanting because of that to hurt or diminish what has been offered or admitted to us.

I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I can’t move any further in the book, not yet at least. The next night I opened the book, looking for the spot where the next story started and I came across these pages again and I read them again and then once again, tears stinging my eyes, aware that I was not ready to move forward from the story or from the emotions it had awakened in me.




One response

3 08 2007
Review: Runaway « still waters

[…] my favourite Munro collection.  There were some stand-out passages and “Soon” (as I blogged about before) is my favourite in the collection.  I did find that some of the twists a bit harder […]

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