Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

“Trespasses” Alice Munro

McClelland & Stewart, 2004

McClelland & Stewart, 2004

‘Trespass’ is a word that I associate with childhood more than most.

It slipped off my tongue every morning in school, after we sang “O Canada”, in a dutiful recitation of “The Lord’s Prayer”.

And there was always a sign warning against it when we explored the ravines and fields which bordered on more familiar spaces.

But it is a strangely adult term, so it’s ironic that it dropped out of my vocabulary as I grew older, just when I might have had greater call to consider it, employ it even.

In “Trespasses” young Lauren is the innocent in the tale; the adults have trespassed.

Not recently, but enduringly. Their trespasses resonate across the years, spiral into Lauren’s everyday life.

It’s ironic that Harry speaks of lurking tragedies in the lives of the town’s folks. For he is concealing a tragedy, several steps beyond simply ‘harboring’. And not only from friends and neighbours but from his daughter, Lauren, too.

“Harry kept a file full of ideas for books and was always on the lookout for life stories. Someone like Mr. Palagian—or even that fat tough-talking waitress, he said—could be harboring a contemporary tragedy or adventure which would make a best seller.”

And, despite his declaration that children should be told the truth, he draws lines and keeps some of that truth behind them, to himself.

“I could make up some kind of a lie to tell you, but I am going to tell you the truth. Because I believe that children should be told the truth.”

There are a lot of lines in Lauren’s life. Not only because she is at an awkward age, but because she is a newcomer to a small community.

She is growing up and realizing how quickly and dramatically one’s perspective on one’s own life can change, how the lines shift position with new understanding.

When she first arrived in town, she liked it, but now she is looking back (as so many of Alice Munro’s heroines do) and adjusting her perspective.

“Now it seemed to Lauren that all of that time had a false glow to it, a reckless silly sort of enthusiasm, that did not take any account of the weight of dailiness, or reality, that she had to carry around once school began and the paper started coming out and the weather changed.”

Within the sphere of this new critical understanding, Lauren draws lines and often inhabits the spaces beyond them.

“Her isolation at school was based on knowledge and experience, which, as she half knew, could look like innocence and priggishness.”

Which only makes her crave a sense of belonging even more.

“I know you can keep a secret, I know you keep our visits and talks and everything a secret. You’ll understand later. You’re a wonderful little girl. There.”

But even though Lauren is still only half-knowing things (each of us is, arguably, only half-knowing, I suppose), she is not a little girl.

This observation says more about its speaker than it reveals about Lauren. But Lauren is, at first, content to sip the cocoa and be that little girl. And, when she sits on the bed, her feet don’t even reach the floor. In some ways, she is still that little girl.

But not enduringly.

For all that Alice Munro is Queen of Stories about Women in Mid-life, caught between memory and reality, reassessing and reflecting, she captures the awkwardness of girlhood beautifully.

Specifically that sense of being so completely and utterly powerless, struck dumb by not inhabiting that later which is promised, overtly and tacitly by the grown-ups in her life, the later in which she will understand everything.

“She was so sick of these burrs that she wanted to beat her hands and yell out loud, but she knew that the only thing she could do was just sit and wait.”

Perhaps, when they all get home, she will don Eileen’s wedding dress and set the veil ablaze.

In the meantime, she sits behind the line, understanding on the other side.

Not realizing just how much company she has in that position.

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories in Runaway as I read through her work-to-date. She is one of my MRE authors and this is the sixth story in this collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. Next week, “Tricks”.

Note: There are spoilers in the comments below.

3 comments to “Trespasses” Alice Munro

  • Sandra

    Alice Munro’s artistry had me off balance from the first sentence of this story. I felt as if Harry’s philosophy/advice/warning was directed right at me as much as at Lauren: “Keep your eyes open and see the possibilities…Be aware.”

    • Ironic isn’t it. He should have advocated an ostrich-in-sand philosophy really (which I know now is unwarranted, given Tamai Kobayashi’s Prairie Ostrich, but the habit of anti-ostrich sayings has stuck, it seems) particularly when handing out pearls of wisdom to Laurven.

  • Angela H.

    Harry’s philosophy of parenting infuriated me–it rang so false, even before the revelation of his concealment. Eileen is more relatable in my opinion. She is who she is and she doesn’t usually apologize for it, excepting the notable “forgive us our trespasses.” Her part in the concealment has palpably changed her; the role she played in the “loss” of the first Lauren is heartbreaking and she carries the weight of it.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>