The thing about reading the third Linnet Muir story is that I know her now. At least, I feel like I do.
Which is the deep appeal of a linked collection, the sense of gradual immersion.
It’s the same phenomenon that pulls you back to a familiar series, a fledgling – and increasingly secure – connection.
In “Varieties of Exile”, she refers to The Swiss Family Robinson and Through the Looking Glass, and writers from Siegfried Sassoon to Sigmund Freud.
Because, yes, indeed, Linnet is a bookish sort and she orders the world around her with words. Even when she is describing her experiences in the real world, she arranges them in a bookish frame. Speaking of the growing number of refugees in Montreal in the third year of the war, she describes it like this:
“Each of them – Belgian, French, Catholic German, Socialist German, Jewish German, Czech – was a book I tried to read from start to finish. My dictionaries were films, poems, novels, Lenin, Freud.”Masaaki Komori
This story slightly overlaps the end of “Between Zero and One”. There, near the end, she is engaged to be married, for the third time. Here, readers learn more about her world, then learn of the engagement, then watch that situation play out.
“What I craved at this point was not love, or romance, or a life added to mine, but conversation, which was harder to find. I knew by now that a man in love does not necessarily have anything interesting to say: If he has, he keeps it for other men.”
Even here, she turns to books to make sense of love and romance.
“There is a girl in a Stefan Zweig novel who says to her lover, ‘Is that all?’ I had pondered this carefully many years before, for I supposed it had something unexpected to do with sex. Now I gave it another meaning, which was that where women were concerned men were satisfied with next to nothing.”
Despite the reservations she maintains privately (and the discouragement she receives from her co-workers, all male, as she describes them in this story, although in “Between Zero and One”, a woman discourages her as well). Linnet does marry. And readers learn more about what marriage meant, politically and economically, for a woman in Quebec at that time. Unsurprisingly, Linnet is interested in pushing the envelope.
“My husband, aged twenty-four, had become my legal guardian under Quebec’s preposterous Napoleonic law, but he never knew that. When he went overseas he asked me not to join any political party, which I hadn’t thought of doing, and not to enlist in the Army or the Air Force. The second he vanished I tried to join the Wrens, which had not been on the list only because it slipped his mind.”
Nonetheless, she did not enlist in the Army or the Air Force. She did not join a political party. For the most part, Linnet does what she is told. (At least, that’s what she leads readers to believe.)
And, meanwhile, she writes her way towards another way of being, making manuscripts, making sense of things, even though “this business of putting life through a sieve and then discarding it was another variety of exile; I knew that even then, but it seemed quite right and perfectly natural”.
Three more Linnet stories to read: “quite right and perfectly natural”.
Home Truths Stories: Thank You for the Lovely Tea / Jorinda and Jorindel / Saturday / Up North / Orphans’ Progress / The Prodigal Parent / In the Tunnel / The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street / Bonaventure / Virus X / In Youth is Pleasure / Between Zero and One / Varieties of Exile / Voices Lost in Snow / The Doctor / With a Capital T
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the final story in Home Truths. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story; I would love the company. Next collection: Overhead in a Balloon.