hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage by alice munro
November 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
Finding a row of Munro books in the library had refreshed me the memory of a promise to read more of her work. I wasn’t able to do a review of “Dear Life”, given the fact that I’m hardly fond of writing such, but in the pursuit of keeping the little diamonds in this particular collection, I have willed myself to write one. Especially when I owned that copy of “Dear Life” but “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” is still in my shopping cart – subject to a few more days of internal evaluation.
Judging just from the title itself, I would have never picked this out of the slightest interest. I’ve never quite understood her penchant for using titles that often reeked of banal sentimentality – unless like her stories, her objective was to tease you into a world of the predictable but time and again, be immersed into anything but. If not that, her titles would otherwise seem so ill-fitted, leaving the reader with an impression that the decision of the title was taken on so many levels or perhaps just a single one. I have found it her startling talent to write about different facets of a person’s humdrum existence in quite a way which was so familiar it was unsettling. Munro would give life to these details, details that are otherwise stepped over in most stories out of politeness or neglect, in a literary breadth that never fails to captivate the reader. Her characters will remind you of people you know, or you once knew, and most importantly how they made you truly feel – the beautiful, the polite, including the ugly, unspoken and unthinkable. While I have not professed love to all her stories, just as much as a person may prefer mangoes over strawberries, it is often the case that a particular passage or line will captivate me without fail, requiring a pause from the reading experience. Most of her stories have to be read more than once, I can only surmise she had decided on the whole plot before she started writing. I often wonder if Munro imagines these dreamy situations, even when they sound so trite and possible yet so unexpected that you would still think them a product of but a lucid daydream. Or does she draw from her own life or the life around her? I am short of words to describe why I am this much enamored by a writer with her amazing insight and capacity. Reading her stories allow words to invade my thoughts days on end, as if one word was enough to describe an entire experience. And the ease at which she perfects the juxtaposition of words like “horrible” and “treasure”, a horrible treasure, paint descriptions with emotional precision. The following are some of my favorite passages in a few of her stories in this collection. My selection was done with much tapering, for it is only truly proper that her stories be taken in entirety. May she find it in her heart to forgive me, I am limited by words.
“What she felt was a lighthearted sort of compassion, almost like laughter. A swish of tender hilarity, getting the better of all her sores and hollows, for the time given”
This line was this story’s ending, said by a woman suffering or dying soon of cancer, tired of her life’s incessant expectations of her as a sickly person yet still as a member of society, surrounded by well-meaning people who to her did not see her in the light that she saw herself. Ready and almost excited to die, she is weary and angry when in an errand her husband is too caught up with his own presumptions and decides to leave her in their truck outside a house as he goes in to be cordial and polite. And this woman finding herself kissing a boy more than a decade younger than her, under the stars on a floating bridge. Munro’s words feels like unraveling an entirely new universe of possibilities in the face of death.
“When I had walked for over an hour, I saw a drugstore that was open. I went in and had a cup of coffee. The coffee was reheated, black and bitter – its taste was medicinal, exactly what I needed. I was already feeling relieved, and now I began to feel happy. Such happines, to be alone. To see the hot late-afternoon light on the sidewalk outside, the branches of a tree just out in leaf, throwing their skimpy shadows. To head from the back of the shop the sounds of the ball game that the man who had served me was listening to on the radio. I did not think of the story I would make about Alfrida – not of that in particular – but of the work I wanted to do, which seemed more like grabbing something out of the air than constructing stories. The cries of the crowd came to me like big heartbeats, full of sorrows. Lovely formal-sounding waves, with their distant, almost inhuman assent and lamentation.
This was what I wanted, this was what I thought I had to pay attention to, this was how I wanted my life to be.”
This story was particularly one of my favorites. It is hard to describe in brief everything that I loved about this story – of how it resounded in me. Of how it reminded me of myself and the many characters I have met through in life. I picked this story’s ending lines, for it is also a story of a writer, who naively thinks that to be a writer one was to breathe in stories from an indifferent, strange reality that surrounded you. One that you find yourself in when you’re in a coffee shop as a stranger, as an eye to the world – putting yourself into a pedestal you yourself created. It seems like a mistake, for most of our best stories are actually our distorted own.
“They were a pair of people with no middle ground, nothing between polite formalities and an engulfing intimacy. What had been between them, all these years, had been kept in balance because of their marriages. Their marriages were the real content of their lives – her marriage to Lewis, the sometimes harsh and bewildering, indispensable content of her life. This other thing depended on those marraiges, for its sweetness, its consoling promise. It was not likely to be something that could hold up on its own, even if they were both free. Yet it was not nothing. The danger was in trying it, and seeing it fall apart and then thinking that it had been nothing.”
This passage talks about how two characters seemingly trapped in a shared yet silent longing for each other, albeit both married with their own intricacies, felt about that predicament. And how Munro describes it is probably a situation in which many a times people find themselves in – not that I have. The last line was particularly gripping for the dreaded finality of the possibility.
“Back home, then, I would sit and write for hours at a wooden table under the windows of a former sunporch now become a makeshift kitchen. I was hoping to make my living as a writer. The sun soon heated up the little room, and the backs of my legs – I would be wearing shorts – stuck to the chair. I could smell the peculiar sweetish chemical odor of my plastic sandals absorbing the sweat of my feet. I liked that – it was the smell of my industry, and, I hoped, of my accomplishment. What I wrote wasn’t any better than what I’d managed to write back in the old life while the potatoes cooked or the laundry thumped around in its automatic cycle. There was just more of it, and it wasn’t any worse – that was all.”
This was said by a woman, recently divorced, finding herself in the lackluster reality of what it was to be one, far from what she imagined yet it confronted her and she had to accept it. The way Munro describes how she had realized that her dream to be a writer might have been a painful mistake, a fantasy when one is bored of their present, only to find that there was no future in it.
The Bear Came Over the Mountain
“‘Do you think it would be fun -‘ Fiona shouted. ‘Do you think it would be fun if we got married?’
He took her up on it, he shouted yes. He wanted never to be away from her. She had the spark of life.'”
And while Munro is adept in writing about the darkness, frailty, complications, nuances and grievances of living, the simplicity with which she renders human intimacy is equally splendid.