That’s Munro all over. And Ian Williams is all about the ordinary too. How we love and how we lose. The ways in which we are hopeful and graceless. Why we study language and swallow the words that would leave us vulnerable. When leaving is simply returning before the door was opened. And plot is what happens when we repeat the patterns we’ve absorbed, whether riffing music or refusing intimacy.
But while there is a lot of overlap thematically between these two writers, stylistically they diverge.
Or, do they?
Munro’s narratives are complicated structurally – they spiral in loose and tight curves, so that time moves back and forth, and all of the longer stories leave you feeling that you could – should, even – reread, now that you have a better idea of where the beginning is (and not where you thought). So are Williams’ narratives. Both his poems and short stories play with form; they occupy space on a page in unusual ways. There are spaces where you long for answers. And there are no answers.
Most people probably feel like they know how to read a Munro short story, perhaps even thanks to English class. (Years ago, I read my way through Alice Munro’s stories here: these posts are still heavily trafficked and I’ve had countless requests for homework help!)
But I suspect that most people found the second half of Ian Williams’ novel Reproduction a real challenge: I did. He doesn’t make it easy for his characters. He doesn’t make it easy for his readers.
But should it be easy? Is it easy for you to repeat the cyclical motion of your everyday life? Maybe reading about ordinary life should be harder? Maybe if we’ve got our noses pressed up against the ugly bits of the lives of characters like these, we might be more likely to spot a solution for them, tug at some thin thread of hope that we could put to use ourselves.