It’s inescapable, this sense of “What Is Remembered” being an alternate version of “Tricks”. (If you want to avoid general spoilers, best not to click on that link, for you will intuit the sort of ending which that story has and thus the contrasting tone herein.)
Once again, our narrator is reflecting upon the events of the past, trying to decipher the point at which the narrative of her life took a turn.
And fundamentally important to readers’ understanding of these events are the sex roles of those times which are being remembered.
In discussing Alice Munro’s stories, I have avoided long excerpts, but this passage is particularly revealing of the preoccupations of her fiction.
Expectations of men and women, differing expectations.
Expectations of husbands and wives, differing expecations too.
These are at the heart of her collections, and the quotes which follow are all-of-a-piece, but the paragraph has been broken into segments to insert comments, about “what is remembered” of other Alice Munro stories.
“Young husbands were stern, in those days. Just a short time before, they had been suitors, almost figures of fun, knock-kneed and desperate in their sexual agonies.”
Here I think of “Cortes Island”, of the detailed description of the “little bride” who is so “fond and cherishing” and the first apartment, so wondrous and limiting. And “The Office”, in which women are equated with the home, not just associated with it. Even those both narrators turn to words for an escape, this is a complicated process, identities eroded even as they are constructed.
“Now, bedded down, they turned resolute and disapproving. Off to work every morning, clean-shaven, youthful necks in knotted ties, days spent in unknown labors, home again at suppertime to take a critical glance at the evening meal and to shake out the newspaper, hold it up between themselves and the muddle of the kitchen, the ailments and emotions, the babies.”
This brings to mind the way that Pauline was implicitly required to care for the children all the time, even when the entire family is on vacation, in “The Children Stay” and the judgement she receives for wanting to participate in the community theatre production of Jean Anouilh’s Eurydice.
“What a lot they had to learn, so quickly. How to kowtow to bosses and how to manage wives. How to be authoritative about mortgages, retaining walls, lawn grass, drains, politics, as well as about the jobs that had to maintain their families for the next quarter of a century.”
But although the authority resides with the men, the women’s list of chores is long and complicated too. Think of “Material” and the need to have the snow tires put on and to return the beer bottles, because “their husbands are such brilliant, such talented incapable men”.
“It was the women, then, who could slip back—during the daytime hours, and always allowing for the stunning responsibility that had been landed on them, in the matter of the children—into a kind of second adolescence.”
Which leads to the scene of Amy and Kath and the make-over in “Jakarta”. The importance placed upon the application of lipstick, the adoption of a second-skin.
“A lightening of spirits when the husbands departed. Dreamy rebellion, subversive get-togethers, laughing fits that were a throwback to high school, mushrooming between the walls that the husband was paying for, in the hours when he wasn’t there.”
I think of the stories about Rose’s relationship with Patrick in Who Do You Think You Are? — particularly “The Beggar Maid” (for which the American edition of the collection is titled) — the awkward adjustments to the reality of marriage, the redrawing of boundaries and identities.
And Rose’s friendship with Jocelyn, filled with laughing fits but also “embarrassment, withdrawal and regret. “Then, to “Mischief” and the pursuit of lightening of spirits in the absence of husbands.
And Kath and Sonya’s conversations about books (in “Jakarta”) and the long discussions referred to in “The Moons of Jupiter” about “our parents, our childhoods…our fathers and mothers, [how we] deplored their marriages, their mistaken ambitions or fear of ambition, how competently we filed them away, defined them beyond any possibility of change”.
I remember Julia and Douglas, in “Hard-Luck Stories”, musing on the two kinds of love, one of which women don’t want to miss out on and the other being the married practical kind.
All of this, alongside the stuff of the story, is what is remembered.
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, as I read through her work-to-date. She is one of my MRE authors and this is the seventh story in this collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. Next: “Queenie”.
Note: There are spoilers in the comments below.