Paradoxically, Morgan Holly, owner of the Capital movie theatre in Maverley, who occupies the opening scene of this short story does not leave the town, but all of the other characters in this tale do leave Maverley.
“And before long he found himself outside, pretending that that he had as ordinary and good a reason as anybody else to put one foot ahead of the other.”
Leaving and losing: these themes overshadow the arriving, the staying and the keeping.
Even Morgan — the theatre owner and projectionist who stays — has to wrestle with this, as the story begins with his loss of a ticket-taker, his need to replace this young woman, who is leaving her job to have a baby.
(It’s important to note that one character’s disruption is another’s excitement; this young woman is having a baby, presumably a time of promise and anticipation, but Morgan experiences it as a time of frustration and upset.)
“He might have expected this — she had been married for half a year, and in those days you were supposed to get out of the public eye before you began to show — but he so disliked change and the idea of people having private lives that he was taken by surprise.”
These private lives: they unfold behind closed doors in Maverley, in ways that are not always apparent to others — like Morgan — and they also unfold on movie screens and in short stories.
The theatre isn’t soundproofed and the ticket-taker can hear the stories whether she can see the screen or not, just as the reader can catch some of the details of the characters’ lives whether she is with them in Maverley or not.
Leah is the new ticket-taker. In the Bible — and Leah’s family is religious — Leah is the woman who marries a man who had worked for many years to gain Leah’s sister’s hand, and her father gave Leah instead; the husband had to work that many years again for the woman he had originally planned to marry. Leah is unexpectedly disruptive, both in the biblical story and in “Leaving Maverley”.
Ray Elliot is the night policeman when the reader meets him, when he is introduced as an escort for Leah, whose father does not want her walking home alone on Saturday nights.
But Ray has a back story, the bulk of which is devoted to how he met his wife Isabel and how they came to Maverley.
Ray and Isabel’s history, including their arrival in Maverley, is back story, but the actual story, is about his and her (and other characters’) leaving Maverley. (You can see all the layers here, right?)
The reader is engaged in the details of these details of private life through a gradual immersion, back story and story intermingling in this small town.
Morgan is not the only character who would prefer to view the world from a safe distance, from the relative security of the projection booth.
Leah, too, has a relatively sheltered view of the world when she begins working as a ticket-taker. And Ray’s wife, Isabel, lives a secluded life, in which her home with Ray gradually becomes the outer limits of her world, so that his leaving the house is almost as big an event as their leaving Maverley (eventually). As the story plays out, Ray’s existence, too, is increasingly removed from the world without.
Just as Ray sums up the movies and the plots that stand out for him, it is tempting to summarize the plot elements of “Leaving Maverley” (and to discuss the different kinds of losing and leaving in the story). But, as often as not, only part of the plot is known.
“Still, she was gone. In a not entirely unusual or unhopeful way, she was gone. Absurdly, he felt offended. As if she could have shown some inkling, at least, that there was another part of her life.”
What nobody knows? Those other parts of lives? That unknowing, that absence, occupies a good amount of “Leaving Maverley”.
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories, as I read through her work-to-date. She is one of my MRE authors and, until now, this has been a chronological reading project, but I was unable to resist inserting her most recent collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. This story is the third in Dear Life, with next Sunday reserved for “Gravel” and the following Wednesday for “Haven”. Wednesdays and Sundays for Alice Munro, for March and April 2013.