Immediately I like Corrie. When Howard Ritchie comes to dinner, he has some reservations about her. But I liked her.

Random House, 2012

Random House, 2012

“She seemed both bold and childish. At first, a man might be intrigued by her, but then her forwardness, her self-satisfaction, if that was what it was, would become tiresome.”

Was it self-satisfaction? Or perhaps something else? Perhaps confidence, or more simply, intelligence and wit.

Perhaps Howard’s observations have more to do with his own expectations than with Corrie’s outward self.

“In spite of her quick tongue, he expected her to have a conventional mind.”

Well, that’s Howard. And perhaps he is simply preoccupied with drawing a contrast between his unconventional, left-wing wife and Corrie. (For, yes, Howard is married.)

But Corrie’s quick tongue led me to expect the unconventional. (I have a penchant for quick-tongued heroines.)

Despite her limp, she takes Howard out to see the grounds after dinner, out to the river bank and sits on the grass to admire the sunset, talks of her upcoming trip to Egypt.

Despite his initial reservations, Howard responds to Corrie in ways he had not anticipated.

He is a married man, but he answers one of her postcards from Egypt.

And, then, there is this: “He hadn’t been sure how he would react to the foot in bed. But in some way it seemed more appealing, more unique, than the rest of her.”

I had to re-read that passage (even though this is actually one of the stories that was included in “The New Yorker” that I read before it was published in Dear Life), for although I had remembered the relationship taking this turn, I hadn’t remembered the explanation being so bold, so forward. (So, um, self-satisfied?)

There is a degree of satisfaction in the telling of this bit, about the questions of Corrie’s virginity (how she was both more and less innocent than Howard might have expected and Howard’s supply of condoms (how he was both more and less calculating than Corrie might have expected).

Furthermore, there is a degree of satisfaction about the effective concealment of their continued relationship.

“The fact being that the people they might have met, and never did, would not have suspected them of being the sinful pair they still were.”

Corrie’s experience of a relationship rooted in infidelity is different from some other women in Alice Munro’s stories.

For instance, when Rose (a married woman) acts on her desire for a married man, the results are not what she was hoping for.

“She could not hear any of this music for a long time without a specific attack of shame, that was like a whole wall crumbling in on her, rubble choking her.” (“Mischief”, Who Do You Think You Are?)

When Frances, an unmarried music teacher, considers her relationship with the (married) science teacher, it is with a “familiar pressure”. (“Accident”, The Moons of Jupiter)

“There was a peculiar code, a different feeling, for each time. The time in the science room like lightning and wet paint. The time in the car in the rain in the middle of the afternoon, with sleepy rhythms, so pleased and sleepy they were then that it seemed they could hardly be bothered to do the next thing. That time had a curved, smooth feeling for her, in memory, the curve came from the sheets of rainwater on the windshield, looking like looped-back curtains.”

And when the narrator of “The Spanish Lady” tries to decipher the truth about the relationship that existed between her own husband and her friend, Margaret, she is preoccupied as much by the reality of her marriage and its unhappiness as by the possibility of infidelity as a contributing factor to her sorrow.

“The unhappiest moment I could never tell you. All our fights blend into each other and are in fact re-enactments of the same fight, in which we punish each other — I with words, Hugh with silence — for being each other. We never needed any more than that.”  (Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You)

Infidelities are scattered throughout Alice Munro’s stories, populated by married and unmarried women and married and unmarried men (and, occasionally, children on the margins, as in “To Reach Japan” in this collection).

And where does Corrie fit in? What is the wall that crumbles in on her? Does she have memories with a curved, smooth feeling? What is her unhappiest moment?

“Corrie” contains the answers to all of these questions, although each reader will undoubtedly interpret them differently; “Corrie” leaves room for the unconventional reader.

Warning: There will likely be spoilers in the discussion of this story below.

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 and, until now, this has been a chronological reading project, but I was unable to resist inserting her most recent collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. This story is the seventh in Dear Life, with next Sunday reserved for “Train” and the following Wednesday for “In Sight of the Lake”. Wednesdays and Sundays for Alice Munro, for March and April 2013.