In “Providence”, Rose and her husband separate, and at first — with her new job and apartment and her casual lover — Rose is all about the possibilities and promise.
(Note: There are events in this story which reveal the outcomes of earlier stories; if you plan to discover the collection on your own, you might prefer not to read on.)
But all too soon, she feels as though an all-knowing power is constantly poking at the decision, taking the shine off the independence and opportunities that Rose, at first, experienced with such pleasure.
There are no tales in this collection of outright marital conflict. It’s not entirely surprising that “Providence” opens with a separation, but nor was it a predictable outcome, viewed within the progression of their marriage.
The reader knows of the relationship’s troubled beginnings from “The Beggar Maid”. They have intuited some disappointments and difficulties from “Mischief”, though the focus is removed, as Rose debates whether/how to pursue an affair. And they know that there is a split eventually, based on Rose’s chance meeting with Patrick in the airport in an earlier story.
But, so soon? Or course, it wasn’t sudden. The reader is abruptly introduced to Rose and Patrick’s daughter, Anna, but she is not an infant, but a school-girl. In-between the tales, time has passed. Outwardly and inwardly, there have been many changes.
And, matter-of-factly, the reader learns of specific events that were not retold. Patrick having choked Rose in the kitchen, for instance. There must be an entire collection of stories between the stories of Who Do You Think You Are? that have remained untold.
At first, after separating, Rose and Patrick continue to share a home, and Rose moves into the den. When discussing Anna’s new habit of falling asleep in her parents’ marriage bed and Patrick moving her into her own afterwards, the reader is reminded that it is difficult to spot the line between ‘sometimes’ and ‘usual’.
“Neither Patrick nor Rose knew when this stopped being occasional, and became essential.” The same could be said of elements of their marriage. Making the observation about Anna’s behaviour doesn’t make it any less powerful an observation about the dissolution of this marriage.
“Yet for Anna this bloody fabric her parents had made, of mistakes and mismatches, that anybody could see ought to be torn up and thrown away, was still the true web of life, of father and mother, of beginning and shelter.”
“Providence” not only contains astute observations about the dissolution of a marriage, but it also makes further comment on the shifting perspectives that one’s class and experience provides. There are not only distinctions to be made within a town, but now Rose has had experiences of city life, and now she recognizes new distinctions.
When considering Dorothy, a friend that Rose makes in the mountain town to which she moves, Rose states: “In a city she would have looked whorish; here, people thought she was outlandish, but glamorous, a representative of some legendary fashionable world.”
This mountain town holds tremendous appeal for Rose under the circumstances. The process of finding an apartment and making friends (really, only Dorothy) reveals new facets and new gaps in Rose’s identity.
On one hand, she is surprised to discover that she has preferences that she didn’t realize she had; on the other hand, she realizes that she is strangely dependent on elements that she hadn’t admitted were so important.
For instance, her relationship with Tom, who is married and teaches in Calgary, takes on a peculiar importance, given how infrequently they spend time in each other’s company:
“Without this connection to a man, she might have seen herself as an uncertain and pathetic person; that connection held her new life in place.”
Rose is no longer “a fine and stable person”. As fine and as stable as she may believe herself to be, she remains aware that others might judge her on these grounds and find her wanting.
And, perhaps, this nagging part of her conscience (or is it really providence) does, still, perceive her as having taken steps in the “wrong” direction. Yes? No? Maybe so?
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s story collection Who Do You Think You Are?, which will continue on subsequent Thursdays. Please feel free to join in, for the series, or for a single story. My Alice Munro reading project began with Dance of the Happy Shades, followed by Lives of Girls and Women, and Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, and I aim to read through her work to date. She is one of my MRE authors.
Next week’s story is “Simon’s Luck”. Care to join in?