Many aspects of “The Moons of Jupiter” recall elements of Rose’s life in the connected stories of in Who Do You Think You Are? (The Beggar Maid).
In both cases, the narrator is a divorced woman beyond her child-bearing years, with a career in the arts, facing later milestones in her life while she is still trying to sort out the significance of the earlier ones.
Some of the connections between these narrators feel direct: the narrator’s friendship with Ruth echoes Rose’s friendship with Jocelyn, she calls an old lover (Tom) who had once planned to meet her and didn’t show up (just as Rose’s lover, Tom once did), and the roots in Dalgleish.
But more of the connections feel familiar in a vague sense, as though you’ve heard all these stories, from other women, in and out of stories, and now you’re wondering if even the names were the same.
The echo is deliberate. The narrator in this title story is consciously aware of it too.
Women talk to other women, about each other and about other women, and it does, eventually begin to get a little blurry.
“We talked about our parents, our childhoods, though for some time we kept clear of our marriages. How thoroughly we dealt with our fathers and mothers, deplored their marriages, their mistaken ambitions or fear of ambition, how competently we filed them away, defined them beyond any possibility of change.”
Here she is referring to the kind of talk that she once shared with her friend, Ruth, when they were younger women.
And, now, the narrator is old enough to reflect on these earlier patterns, old enough to imagine her two daughters playing out the echo.
“They would have talked about me, Judith and Nichola comparing notes, relating anecdotes; analyzing, regretting, blaming, forgiving. I wished I’d had a boy and a girl. Or two boys. They wouldn’t have done that. Boys couldn’t possibly know so much about you.”
There are a lot of things that, seemingly, the narrator doubts, reflecting on them later in life, but she stringently holds to her belief that this pattern of comparing, relating, analyzing, regretting, blaming and forgiving is uniquely female.
And, yet, she is, at this time, acknowledging certain variations from what she holds to be true.
She is trying to acknowledge things that she once would have dismissed as unlikely, even impossible (or, perhaps, possible, but unthinkable).
She knows that many of the words that she would use to describe her daughters are not the words that many (or any) other people would apply to these young women.
“Many people must know things that would contradict what I say.”
She tries to see around the familiar, cautiously, simply acknowledging that there are other perspectives, not necessarily adopting them or accepting them.
She is not the only one testing, querying. Her father, too, is struggling for answers, sometimes for tangible problems, as when trying to remember lines of poetry, but also grappling with more philosophical concerns.
“I ask myself a question. The answer’s there, but I can’t see all the connections my mind’s making to get it.”
Her father’s hospitalization is the impetus for reflection. She drove to Dalgleish last night, to pick him up and deliver him to Toronto General Hospital. In a few days, he will have major surgery, as the only alternative is a few months abed until a valve stops working completely and his heart stops.
It’s a lot to take in. And, mostly, she tries to not take it in. She does what a lot of us do.
“Attention narrows in on something – some distraction – grabs on, becomes fanatically serious.”
And, then, she seeks a distraction from her distraction. She leaves the Bloor Street shops for the museum, but she doesn’t want to see any particular gallery, so she goes next door to the planetarium instead.
The planetarium show overtly strives to represent “all the connections” that the brain struggles with, those which are too large to fully understand and inhabit. There, in the dark, the universe is ordered, viewers in their comfortable seats.
(In the years when this story was written and published, I attended the planetarium three times; it was easy to imagine the scene she describes.)
The narrator is the only single woman in attendance; there is one other single adult, a man “who looked as if he might be here to keep himself from going to a bar”. She recognizes the element of restlessness and resistance, but she only names the solution.
“The plantetarium show had done what I wanted it to after all – calmed me down, drained me.”
Calm enough now, she revisits the museum, passes straight through to the Chinese Garden: “I saw the stone camels again, the warriors, the tomb. I sat on a bench looking toward Bloor Street.”
“I meant to get up and go over to the tomb, to look at the relief carvings, the stone pictures, that go all the way round it.”
And that is as close as the narrative gets to death in this story, the suggestion that one might get closer, might lean in.
“I always mean to look at them and I never do. Not this time, either.”
As with “Visitors”, what is not said in this story is as important as what is.
Have you been reading any Alice Munro lately?
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. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. This story was the last in The Moons of Jupiter and next Thursday launches The Progress of Love with the title story.
The other stories in this collection were discussed as follows:
Chaddeleys and Flemings 1. Connection 2. The Stone in the Field
The Turkey Season
Labor Day Dinner
Mrs Cross and Mrs Kidd