Just how old are they, these women in Alice Munro’s stories, these women in “Hard-Luck Stories” in particular.
These stories still feel current to me, relevant, the women recognizable in many ways.
But, perhaps as the narrator suggests, they are older than readers think?
Dressed in shirt waist dresses and straw hats? Driving a bookmobile in the Ottawa Valley? These must be women of another time.
And that’s an appropriate observation, because the women in this story are considering women of another time, their own selves in other times, too.
Douglas, too, is preoccupied with the past, spending countless hours travelling around Ontario, buying materials for the archives, “all sorts of old diaries, letters, records, that would otherwise perish”.
He sits with the women, drinking wine, telling tales of his bookish exploits, drawing out the elements of excitement, all of them looking for the exceptions in the sets of rules by which their lives have been governed.
Julia drinks more wine than the other two. That introduces a quiet tension into the story, as the others and the readers wait to see what that means.
“No, seriously, do you remember when we were driving down and you told about the visit you went on, the visit that man took you on, to see the rich people? The rich woman? The awful one?”
This is introduced on the second page of the story, but it takes ten pages for the story to be told again.
Presumably it is retold for Douglas’ benefit, but Julia needs it to be told.
“Do you remember you said then about there being the two kinds of love, and the one kind nobody wants to think they’ve missed out on?”
Julia is preoccupied by this element of the story. For a lot of reasons. Among them, the sense that “she feels her emotions, her life, her something-or-other — all that is being wasted”.
The narrator has not, yet, it seems, decided whether to tell the story again. Still on its third page, she is observing that “this sounds like the complaints many women make, and in fact it sounds a lot like the complaints I used to make, when I was married”.
She wonders, inwardly: “How much is this meant, how deep does it go? How much is it an exercise that balances the marriage and keeps it afloat?”
But, then, she does tell the story, though without the oblique statements that Julia used to summarize the events so succinctly.
Readers, however, know to listen carefully, to spot those “two kinds of love”, to gauge the ways in which the narrator might have felt she had missed out on.
It’s not necessarily that the women in this story are older than readers might think; the themes are older, still relevant, still poignant.
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 “Visitors”; one story will be discussed on each Thursday. Please feel free to join in, for the series, or for a single story.