“Some Women” by Alice Munro

2015/02/img_5397.jpgIt was the queen of hearts for me for week 5 of Deal Me In 2015. This year, hearts are my suit dedicated to women authors and Alice Munro is one of the best short story writers out there, male or female. I own this one as part of her collection of stories “Too Much Happiness.” I’m slowly working my way through that volume, but the two Munro stories I included in last year’s Deal Me In edition (“Axis” and “Menesetung“) are not part of it. An explanation of the Deal Me In Challenge may be found here. The complete list of stories I will be reading is here. For links to other participants’ story rosters, see the week 1 post here. If you’d like to explore other blogs that are participating in the Deal Me In challenge, see the participant links on my sidebar.

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One thing many of my favorite stories seem to have in common is that they are told by a young narrator. Such is the case with Munro’s “Some Women,” which is told from the perspective of a thirteen year-old girl (albeit the story is present as recalled by her in her old age). I started wondering about what makes a young narrator so popular and pleasing to read, and perhaps the best reason is that it allows the author to avoid presenting the story from a jaded perspective. Some of the characters in this story would be immediately identifiable – to an adult narrator – as shallow and self-serving, but the young narrator is still of an age where she’s taking things people tell her at face value.

Another narrative approach this particular story uses is that of an unnamed narrator, which I’ve come to discover is quite common. Why is this? Perhaps one of my more learned readers can help me. Is it because it is easier for a reader to put himself in the shoes of an unnamed narrator? Does the repeated name of a narrator create an empidement to a reader’s empathy? What do you think?

The girl tells of her first job, hired by the wife and elderly mother of a man dying of cancer. The mother works a few nights a week, and the narrator is employed to help out. The relationship between the mother and wife is strained, and the narrator doesn’t quite understand it. Things become more complicated when a masseuse shows up (she has regularly scheduled appointments with the mother) and she begins to spend time with the man as well, ostensibly to “cheer him up.” Her name is Roxanne, which led to one of my favorite quotations from the story. When the man, Bruce, asks the masseuse if she knows “whose name that was?” Our unnamed narrator jumps into the conversation saying “It was Alexander the Great’s wife’s name,” and the narrator explains that her head “was a magpie’s nest filled with such bright scraps of information.”

Bruce tires of the extra attention, though, and enlists the narrator to aid him in a scheme to relieve himself of it. There are some tense moments for the reader, as we don’t know what exactly he plans, and the young girl’s unquestioning obedience to his wishes does not allow us a further glimpse into his scheme until the denouement.

After reading, I was still puzzling a bit over the title and who the phrase “some women” refers to. Is it because it is simply a story about some women? Surely its meaning is deeper than that. I tended to think it referred to Roxanne and her “type” but is it meant to be a derogatory term? I don’t necessarily think so. I found the Roxanne character not to be entirely unsympathetic, but whether or not that was the author’s intent, I don’t know. I think All the women in the story are basically dealing with the hands life has dealt them the best that they know how.

Maybe the reason I think “Some Girls” refers more to Roxanne than the others was the following passage about her. “I began to understand that there were certain talkers – certain girls – whom people liked to listen to, not because of what they, the girls, had to say, but because of the the delight they took in saying it. A delight in themselves, a shine on their faces, a conviction that whatever they were telling about was remarkable and that they themselves could not help but give pleasure.”

Have you read this story? What did you think of it? Who are the “some girls” of the story’s title?

(below: the lovely Alice Munro)

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I found a nice interview with Alice Munro at http://www.vqronline.org/authors/interview-alice-munro where this story is discussed briefly.

Next week’s Deal Me In selection: Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Extreme Solitude”

Below: the title of this story kept making me think of the similarly titled Rolling Stones album which was popular from the time in my youth when I was becoming musically self-aware.  Do you remember it?

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2 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    February 9, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    I liked your question about unnamed narrators. I think your idea of building empathy with the reader has a lot of validity. A few unnamed narrators such as in “The Invisible Man” (which I still haven’t finished) and Katherine Anne Porter’s “Theft” give me the impression that, in addition to the author building empathy, they are also somehow attempting to show the character having no purpose or a sense that the society around them saw no purpose in the characters.

    Mark Twain also has a lot of stories where the narrator is unnamed; however, I get the impression that the narrators are simply fictional versions of Twain. Maybe some sort of comedy or satire is derived from doing this – not sure.

    I’ve still yet to read a Munro story. I have a few in my collections. Perhaps a wild card this year – or just plain adhoc.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      February 10, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      Interesting observation that their un-namedness may be intended to show the character as purposeless or not valued by the rest of society. That’s one I hadn’t thought of.

      The unnamed character plays havoc with me when I do my “shorties” awards at the end of the year. I know I liked the character from such and such a story, so I go back and look at the story and find out he/she is never named – then I wonder, well maybe the author did name the character but I missed it, and so on, and so on. Quite vexing! 🙂

      Like


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