“Meneseteung” by Alice Munro

This week I drew the ace of hearts for my Deal Me In project . This led me to the Alice Munro short story, “Menesetung.” I own it as part of the massive volume “The Best American Short Stories of the Century.”

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On a personal note, this volume remains, to date, the only “material compensation” I have ever received for writing this blog, as one of my readers – who also happens to be a fellow participant in a local Great Books Foundation reading group I often attend – made a gift of it to me over a year and a half ago. I think I’ve read about sixteen of the stories so far, blogging about most of them. Thanks again, Richard! 🙂

This story was first published in the New Yorker in 1988…

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…and was later included in a collection of Munro’s stories titled “Friend of My Youth.”

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Munro is something of a rare bird among writers, choosing to specialize in short stories as her primary form. To date, I’ve only read a few of her stories, from the one collection of hers that I own, “Too Much Happiness.”

“Menesetung” is basically the story of Almeda Joynt Roth, a late 19th century poet of Ontario, Canada (Not coincidentally the region where Munro is from). Each chapter is introduced by a few lines of her poems. I must say I found the structure of this story a little tedious, as points of view and points in time jumped around quite a bit. There were also times when a fictional local paper, the Vidette, is quoted as a way to introduce new topics or passages. Though I struggled with the format, there was some indisputably amazing writing in the story, especially when Munro describes life in the province where she grew up. For example:

“From her window she can see the sun rising, the swamp mist filling with light, the bulky, nearest trees floating against that mist and the trees behind turning transparent. Swamp oaks, soft maples, tamarack, butternut.”

This passage reminded me a little of one of my favorite passages in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which I read a couple years ago.

There was also a great passage about the sort of “Victorian stuffiness” of Roth’s time – when it came to the interaction of the sexes. She is rather sweet on a neighbor gentleman, but must wait on him to “make the first move” thus we have the following:

“She does not invite him to come in – a woman living alone could never do such a thing. As soon as a man and woman of almost any age are alone together within four walls, it is assumed that anything may happen. Spontaneous combustion, instant fornication, an attack of passion. Brute instinct, triumph of the senses. What possibilities men and women must see in each other to infer such dangers. Or, believing in the dangers, how often they must think about the possibilities.”

Isn’t that great?

Overall, though, the story wasn’t one of my favorites this year. Perhaps, like many, it just requires a deeper dive on the readers part. Sadly, this week I lacked the time and energy to read this one over again. Maybe someday.

The odd title of the story refers to the name of a river in the region of Ontario where the story takes place. It is speculated it may have a deeper meaning, but I won’t go into that. Oh, and this week’s “coincidence” is that Munro’s birthday is just a few days after this posting, July 10th. So, happy early 83rd to Alice Munro! 🙂

Two other Deal Me In participants this year have read Munro, both choosing her short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” but what about you? Have you read any Alice Munro? What do you think of her, and what recommendations do you have for further reading?

(Below: Alice Munro)

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2 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    July 6, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    Jay,
    Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year. That’s the first I had heard of her I’m ashamed to say. I still have not read any of her stories, but I have the volume you mentioned with this story in it. I need to decide whether to read it sooner (like now) or include it in next year’s DMI.
    -Dale

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 7, 2014 at 7:45 am

      Hi Dale,
      I guess I remember hearing that (about the Nobel Prize) now. Almost as great an honor as having now been read three times by DMI participants! 🙂

      I’ve liked her writing a lot. The stories I read in Too Much Happiness were all pretty good.
      -Jay

      Like


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