Things that you can slip between.

Munro Too Much Happiness RANThey are often ‘new’ in nature.

Perspectives transform.

If I was playing $30,000 Pyramid, I might think such things, in response to the idea of ‘dimensions’.

At the heart of Alice Munro’s “Dimensions”: a woman who is fundamentally altered, facing a ‘new’ future, slipping between layers of meaning,  transforming.

“And she went by her second name now: Fleur.”

And not only has she been actively changed, but she is seeking to change the world around her.

Rightly so, for the world which she now inhabits — now that she has a new haircut and a new shape and a new name — is not a happy place.

“There was a certain trick she had picked up to keep her mind occupied. She took the letters of whatever words her eyes lit on, and she tried to see how many new words she could make out of them.”

(Fleur: elf, rule, rue, lure, ref. I’m sure I have missed some, but I’m equally sure that the names in this story were carefully selected, less malleable than many.)

The tragedy behind her is the sort which soaks into daily life, rendering strange even the familiar and everyday.

It makes a certain kind of sense that Fleur would want it to be possible that things could be other than they are (or appear to be).

Lloyd’s life has changed dramatically as well (and death – the ultimate change – figures significantly in the tale too).

“His philosophy of life had changed as he got older—he believed now in marriage, constancy, and no birth control.”

Some changes hinge upon major events, but sometimes the root of a change can be traced to a seemingly insignifcant detail.

“She remembered perfectly how the argument had started. She had bought a tin of spaghetti that had a very slight dent in it.”

There is a journey involved and “Dimensions” begins with the literal path travelled but the story spins upon a psychological and emotional journey (Doree’s/Fleur’s primarily, although Lloyd’s transformations are also evident).

“He asked about her trip, what buses she’d had to take from Mildmay.
She told him that she wasn’t living there anymore. She told him where she lived, and about the three buses.”

The concept of transformation is central to this story, both in plot and character.

“I was crazy at one time but believe me I have shed all my old craziness like the bear that sheds his coat. Or maybe I should say the snake that sheds his skin.”

It’s interesting to consider that a shed snake skin also figures in the next story, “Fiction”, in reference to a different impetus for transformation. The stories in Too Much Happiness contain many subtle echoes, thematic and symbolic, and frequently comment overtly on the idea of ‘happiness’.

“For almost two years she had not taken any notice of the things that generally made people happy, such as nice weather or flowers in bloom or the smell of a bakery. She still did not have that spontaneous sense of happiness, exactly, but she had a reminder of what it was like. It had nothing to do with the weather or flowers. It was the idea that the children were in what he had called their Dimension that came sneaking up on her in this way, and for the first time brought a light feeling to her, not pain.”

It’s profound.

It’s complicated.

But, also, in some ways it is as simple as can be.

“Well, it wasn’t like that now. It was not the same.”

How do you feel about this story?

Does it seem like “same ol’ same ol'” Alice Munro?

Or do you sense something changed in her storytelling in this collection’s opening story?

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories in Too Much Happiness as I read through her work-to-date. She is one of my MRE authors and this is the first story in this collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. Next week, “Fiction”.

Note: There are spoilers in the comments below.