McClelland & Stewart, 2006

McClelland & Stewart, 2006

Alice’s father has remarried, and Irlma has made many changes in the house.

“Irlma is a stout and rosy woman, with tinted butterscotch curls, brown eyes in which there is still a sparkle, a look of emotional readiness, of being always on the brink of hilarity. Or on the brink of impatience flaring into outrage.”

Perhaps because he is inwardly uncomfortable with the shift or perhaps because he is truly concerned that the young Alice will return to the house with a set of expectations and disapprove, her father makes motions to include her in the changes.

She, however, is less troubled than he might have guessed. (Or, is she?)

“And I don’t tell him that I am not sure now whether I love any place, and that it seems to me it was myself that I loved here—some self that I have finished with, and none too soon.”

These are not the changes with which she believes she is concerned. She inhabits these spaces differently now.

  “In the car I sit beside him holding the can and we follow slowly that old, usual route—Spencer Street, Church Street, Wexford Street, Ladysmith Street—to the hospital. The town, unlike the house, stays very much the same—nobody is renovating or changing it. Nevertheless it has changed for me. I have written about it and used it up. Here are more or less the same banks and hardware and grocery stores and the barbershop and the Town Hall tower, but all their secret, plentiful messages for me have drained away.
Not for my father. He has lived here and nowhere else. He has not escaped things by such use.”

The changes her father charts are drawn from another perspective, one which she views as more rooted than her own.

She has transformed these places, these people, in fiction. And not only transformed them, altered them, but consumed them somehow.

This is different from the kind of change observed in her old home: superficial changes which she imagines or understands to have been instigated by (and executed by) Irlma, rather than her father.

“The books that used to lie under beds and on tables all over the house have been corralled by Irlma, chased and squeezed into this front-room bookcase, glass doors shut upon them.”

How is this different from the kind of change that the young Alice observes while her father is driving?

Through writing, something is consumed. Not shut away, behind a door, but simply no longer.

And, yet, there are changes which she did observe, unexpected and inexplicable.

She is startled by her father’s response to Joe Thoms when they go to check on him. (In turn, they both seem surprised by his recent declaration of sobriety, which readers, too, receive as surprising news, given Irlma’s comments about his consumption habits.)

Joe has found religion and is eager to share his enthusiasm.

‘You see the Lord’s purpose?’
‘Oh Joe,’ says my father with a sigh. ‘Joe, I think all that’s a lot of hogwash.’
I am surprised at this, because my father is usually a man of great diplomacy, of kind evasions. He has always spoken to me, almost warningly, about the need to fit in, not to rile people.”

The young Alice has embraced elements of this philosophy as well. She too has spoken up, during this visit, when once she would have remained silent.

“I feel obliged to say, ‘Oh, that’s just the way people talk about Indians,’ and Irlma—immediately sniffing out some high-mindedness or superiority—says that what people say about the Indians has a lot of truth to it, never mind.”

Yes, nevermind. Because these are not the kinds of changes with which “Home” is preoccupied.

When her father is seen by Dr. Parakulan, other kinds of change move to centre stage.

“When I come here I usually stay from Friday night until Sunday night, no longer, and now that I have stayed on into the next week something about my life seems to have slipped out of control. I don’t feel so sure that it is just a visit. The buses that run from place to place no longer seem so surely to connect with me.”

In the wings lurks a change which the Alice of this present day will need to transform on the page.

She will need to use this up. To escape.

Put it between the covers, if not behind glass.

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories in The View from Castle Rock as I read through her work-to-date. She is one of my MRE authors and this is the tenth story in this collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. Next week, “What Do You Want to Know For?”.

Note: There are spoilers in the comments below.