Whether it’s Alva’s job in a summer resort in “Sunday Afternoon” or Edie looking after the kids and doing what needs doing in “How I Met My Husband”, Alice Munro captures the twinned knowingness and vulnerability of a girl in her first job.
And her narrator doesn’t even flinch, for she has something to prove. Someone has suggested to her that this is something she could not do, so she is all about proving them wrong, proving to herself that she can gut a turkey, and do any other kind of work that’s put before her too.
She doesn’t think of them as turkeys.
And that’s appropriate, because the reader shouldn’t be distracted by the turkeys either.
Like so many other Alice Munro stories, “The Turkey Season” is about the experiences of a young girl, observing a world which is unfamiliar to her and trying to make sense of it.
The cast of characters is small. They are all introduced in the first few sentences.
(Except for one, and that character is introduced suddenly, just as their impact is unexpected and curious.)
And as much as the turkeys’ appearance is detailed, as the gutting process is outlined, the women’s appearance is discussed with equal attention.
“There are different ways women have of talking about their looks. Some women make it clear that what they do to keep themselves up is for the sake of sex, for men. Others, like Gladys, make the job out to be a kind of housekeeping, whose very difficulties they pride themselves on. Gladys was genteel.”
Or was she genteel? Perhaps it’s just appearances. Some of the turkeys are missing a limb (those are the ones given to employees for their holiday dinners); some of the women have been damaged as well.
And, anyway, not all men are looking out for women.
“I don’t want to go into the question of whether Herb was homosexual or not, because the definition is of no use to me. I think that probably he was, but maybe he was not. (Even considering what happened later, I think that.) He is not a puzzle so arbitrarily solved.”
There is nothing arbitrary about the construction of this story; the critical inclusion of this parenthetical observation ensures that the reader will continue with the story of the turkeys (particularly with all the gutting learned and now rote) to see what that’s all about, “what happened later”.
But the author has been up-front with the readers; nothing is arbitrarily solved, not in the narrator’s mind, not in the readers’ minds.
There is an element of falseness to the story. “I could be enraged then at the lack of logic in most adults’ talk — the way they held to their pronouncements no matter what evidence might be presented to them.”
And there is an element of mystery. “I got to a stage of backing off from the things I couldn’t really know.”
One reader’s evidence is another reader’s mystery. “The Turkey Season” would make for a delightfully grim Christmas Eve read. (Speaking as a vegetarian.)
Have you read this story? Or others in this collection?
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories, beginning with with Dance of the Happy Shades, Lives of Girls and Women, Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You and Who Do You Think You Are? (The Beggar Maid). I aim to read through her work to date. She is one of my MRE authors.
The next in The Moons of Jupiter is “Accident”; one story will be discussed on each Thursday, so that “Labour Day Dinner” will fall on the Thursday before Labour Day weekend. Please feel free to join in, for the series, or for a single story.