“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 presented 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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Deal Me In – Week 32 Wrap Up

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My apologies for being a little late with this week’s wrap up.

SHORT STORY NEWS & LINKS

I found another blogger doing a challenge similar to ours, but much more ambitious. Check out “the short story box” – http://msbookish.com/a-short-story-a-day-randomized/

If, like me, Returning Reader’s short story deck has whetted your appetite for African short stories, check out the following:
http://bookslive.co.za/blog/2014/08/05/short-story-day-africa-2014-longlist-announced/

This one sounds interesting:
http://siouxcityjournal.com/lifestyles/local/retired-dordt-professor-digs-up-tales-from-the-crypt/article_dc90c812-4317-5d7d-8094-56d145e9465c.html

NEW POSTS THIS WEEK

Dale read Truman Capote’s “Mojave”http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/truman-capote-mojave/

Candiss read the Guy de Maupassant classic, “The Necklace” – http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/deal-me-in-challenge-story-32-the-necklace-by-guy-de-maupassant/

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Katherine read “Diamonds aren’t Forever” by S.P. Somtowhttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/deal-me-in-week-32-diamonds-arent-forever/

Randall read “Dimension” a story by one of Deal Me In’s most popular authors, Alice Munrohttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/08/dimension-by-alice-munro.html

Me? I’m behind and haven’t read my 32nd story, “The Redfield Girls” by Laird Barron…

That’s it for now. Until next week – happy reading!

Deal Me In – Week 29 Wrap Up

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An exciting week for me in my role as Deal Me In host, as a couple more bloggers have raised the Deal Me In banner! Please take a moment if you can to check out the following two blogs and welcome them to the “Wonderful World of Deal Me In” 🙂

New Deal Me In-ers:

Randall at Time Enough at Last has launched his “Deal Me In Litehttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/deal-me-in-lite-introduction.html

Deal Me In hits Tasmania! Check out this post by Pam at Travelin’ Penguin: http://travellinpenguin.blogspot.com/2014/07/sunday-market-and-short-stories.html

As an “extra” this week, I also discovered an old song via Pandora that “deals” with a subject familiar to Deal Me In participants. Perhaps a little on the “too spiritual” side (for relative heathens like me), it’s still a fun listen. Tex Ritter, I believe, recorded the original, but here’s Hank’s take:

Hank Williams version of Deck of Cards: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gib-V-FQAT0

On to this week’s posts:

Susan reviewed a couple stories, Jimmy Buffett’s “Take Another Road” and “I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever” on Goodreads.com: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/849506616?book_show_action=true&page=1

Katherine read “Every Mystery Unexplained” by Lisa Mason and introduces us to “The Blue Room Illusion” with a video http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/deal-me-in-week-29-every-mystery-unexplained/

Randall (new Deal Me In’er – see link above for his roster) posted about his first three stories:
Ray Bradbury’s “All on a Summer’s Nighthttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/all-on-summers-night-by-ray-bradbury.html
John Barth’s “Toga Partyhttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/toga-party-by-john-barth.html
And Edward Everett Hale’s “My Double and How He Undid Mehttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/my-double-and-how-he-undid-me-by-edward.html
And – just like that – he’s all caught up in his Deal Me In “Lite” (six-month) variation of the challenge!

I read another Alice Munro story “Axishttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/chekhovs-gun-thoughts-on-axis-a-short-story-by-alice-munro/

Dale “laughed and cried” when he read Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything that Rises Must Converge” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/flannery-oconnor-everything-that-rises-must-converge/

That’s it for this week! Happy reading!

Chekhov’s Gun – thoughts on “Axis,” a short story by Alice Munro

Is everyone familiar with the principle of “Chekhov’s Gun?” If not, here’s a brief summary about it from Wikipedia:

Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that requires every element in a narrative be necessary and irreplaceable, and that everything else be removed.

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” -Chekhov

Below: An armed Chekhov in a picture from uncyclopedia.com (looks pretty photoshopped to me… 🙂 )

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This may be especially true of short stories, where – due to limited space – details are precious and must have relevance. Experienced readers begin to develop a skill of spotting Chekhov’s gun. Even I sometimes notice one hanging on the wall in a story – and sometimes more than one. This happened to me in reading Alice Munro’s great story “Axis.”

This was my second Munro story in two weeks for my Deal Me In short story reading challenge. Perhaps the hand of fate noticed I wasn’t that taken with the other story of hers that I read (“Menesetung”) and pointed me to this one right away so I might form a better impression of Munro. If so, mission accomplished! Originally published in the New Yorker magazine, I own the story as part of my “The Best American Short Stories 2012” anthology. It’s the story of two college friends, Avie and Grace, and how their lives didn’t quite turn out as expected.

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The bulk of the story takes place “fifty years ago” and Avie and Grace are students at “the university.” Each is pursuing a field of study, but in reality their unspoken purpose is to find their future husbands… The girls have two men in their lives, Avie has Hugo, and Grace has Royce, a former soldier.

The first of Chekhov’s guns came in the form of a dream that Avie had:

“In the dream, she was married to a Hugo, who really was hanging around as if he hoped to marry her, and she had a baby, who cried day and night. It howled, in fact, till she thought she would go crazy. At last she picked up this baby … and took her down to some dark basement room and shut her in there, where the thick walls ensured that she wouldn’t be heard. Then she went away and forgot about her. And it turned out that she had another girl baby anyway, one who was easy and delightful and grew up without any problems.

But one day this grown daughter spoke to her mother about her sister hidden in the basement. It turned out that she had known about her all along – the poor warped and discard one had told her everything – and there was nothing to be done now. ‘Nothing to be done,’ this lovely, kind girl said. The abandoned daughter knew no way of life but the one she had and, anyway, she did not cry anymore; she was used to it.”

When she tells Grace about the dream, her friend’s reaction is predictable. She thinks it’s an awful dream and asks Avie if she hates children. “Not unreasonably,” Avie said. That’s an interesting answer, isn’t it? Anyway, the shadow of this dream (which is related near the start of the tale) hung over the story in my mind as I was reading, and unlike the other Chekhov’s Gun in the story, it is never explicitly resolved. I did finish reading with some pretty strong ideas about its relevance, though.

The other gun of Chekhov’s was more traditional. Early in the story, Royce is traveling by bus to see Grace at her family’s farm in the country. Unlike Avie, Grace is rather straight-laced and hasn’t allowed too much “familiarity” with Royce yet. On the trip, he is harboring hopes of “getting Grace alone” at some point during the visit (I should mention that Grace hopes this too). Along the way, though, the bus passes Avie’s home town and from the bus window, Royce espies Grace’s friend:

“She was standing on the sidewalk of the Main Street, talking to somebody. She was full of animation, whipping her hair back when the wind blew it in her face… She looked carefree, and in immensely good spirits – prettier, more vivid, than he ever remembered seeing her.”

In short, she was everything Grace was not (at least to this point in their relationship). Royce considers hopping off the bus and pursuing Avie on a whim, but common sense prevails and he continues on his journey. Of course, I immediately thought, “These two are getting together,” and began “waiting out” the story until this would happen. As I approached the end of the story, though, I began to get concerned. “There’s only three pages left! Where’s Avie?!”, etc. Well ***Spoiler Alert*** they do meet up again, but in a more poignant and bittersweet way than I would have imagined.

This story first appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 2011

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I really enjoyed the story, and also speculating about the meaning of the title, “Axis,” a word which means something that is revolved around. Is the Axis Royce’s visit to the family farm and its result? Is the Axis Royce’s change in career choice after seeing (and noticing for the first time) the “Niagara Escarpment” – a rock formation – which leads him to become a geologist. Is the Axis Avie’s horrible dream, which cryptically might explain everything (or maybe nothing) about the friends? This will not be my last reading of Alice Munro, that much is certain.

What about you? What short stories have you read recently, and who are some of your favorite short story authors?

(Below: part of the “Niagara Escarpment”)

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Oops! Sorry. Wrong Chekhov!

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Deal Me In – Week 27 Wrap Up

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Another slow week for DMI activity, but stalwarts Dale and Katherine both contributed a post, and your humble host managed one as well. :-). Below are the links.

Dale read a July 4th story (randomly drawn!) – Ernest Hemingway’s “Ten Little Indians.” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/ernest-hemingway-ten-indians/

Katherine read Steven Millhauser’s “The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad” and also shared her thoughts on last week’s survey. It’s all here http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/deal-me-in-week-27-the-eighth-voyage-of-sinbad/

For my part, Nobel Prizewinner Alice Munro (it’s her birthday this week!) made her DMI debut (from my roster anyway) as I read her story “Menesetung.” https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/meneseteung-by-alice-munro/

That’s it for this week. Oh, and if you haven’t taken the Deal Me In “survey” from last week, feel free to do so at your convenience. 🙂

“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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Deal Me In – Week 14 Wrap Up

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We start the second quarter of Deal Me In 2014 with another eclectic group of short stories and thoughtful posts. Below are links to new posts by our participants since our week 13 update last Sunday. (I try to meet an unofficial deadline of five p.m. EST for these wrap-up posts)

Please consider taking the time to visit the other participants’ posts or even “like” them or leave a comment to share some feedback.

Dale posts about a baseball story by Zane GreyThe Redheaded Outfield http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/zane-grey-the-redheaded-outfield/

Hanne reads Alice Munro’s The Bear Came Over the Mountain http://readingoncloud9.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/week-14-the-bear-came-over-the-mountain-by-alice-munro/

Katherine links to another card trick for her two of hearts, “16 Minutes” by Eric Lustbader http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/deal-me-in-week-14-16-mins/

My king of hearts led me to Katherine Vaz’s story “Undressing the Vanity Dollshttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/undressing-the-vanity-dolls-by-katherine-

Candiss of Read the Gamut drew the five of clubs and read Denis Johnson’s story, “Emergency” http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/deal-me-in-challenge-story-14-emergency-by-denis-johnson/