Readers who were left with an abundance of questions after reading “Chance” might turn to “Soon” believing that some will be answered.
But Juliet’s reappearance holds no promises of resolution; there are just as many new musings unaddressed.
Most prominent are the questions outwardly posed at the end of the story: “When Sara had said, soon I’ll see Juliet, Juliet had found no reply. Could it not have been managed? Why should it have been so difficult?”
It’s possible that part of the answer rests with Juliet’s fundamental understanding of her place in the world, particularly regarding her identity as the daughter of Sam and Sara.
“And the truth was that she saw herself—she saw herself and Sam and Sara, but particularly herself and Sam—as superior in their own way to everybody around them.”
In “Chance” it is unclear why Juliet pursued a teaching career and a study of the classics; “Soon” does address this question, even as it raises additional questions about the nature of Juliet’s understanding of relationships.
Her parents, Sam and Sara, “lived in a curious but not unhappy isolation, though her father was a popular schoolteacher. Partly they were cut off by Sara’s heart trouble, but also by their subscribing to magazines nobody around them read, listening to programs on the national radio network, which nobody around them listened to. By Sara’s making her own clothes—sometimes ineptly—from Vogue patterns, instead of Butterick. Even by the way they preserved some impression of youth instead of thickening and slouching like the parents of Juliet’s schoolfellows.”
The story opens with Juliet buying a print of a Marc Chagall painting for her parents. “I and the Village” brings them to her mind, which is an interesting thought when one considers the other painting discussed in the story, Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”.
Sam’s (and Sara’s?) taste in art was not acceptable in these environs. “It had been the subject of nervous jokes years ago on the occasion when they had the other teachers to supper.” But Juliet chooses to pursue a career in the classics even though she recognizes the marginal role her parents inhabit in the community. (And even though she purchases a print of a modern work of art for her parents, the Chagall is relocated to the attic.)
The family’s marginalization is literal as well as metaphoric. “Light from the last streetlight in town now fell across Juliet’s bed.” (But perhaps Juliet blames this discord on Sara and her ineptly sewn Vogue outfits.)
Like Rose, Juliet inhabits the fringe. As she takes the train home again, the landscape is lush and thriving, but it assaults Juliet’s vision. She seems openly offended by her roots.
“The hardwood trees were humped over the far edge of the fields, making blue-black caves of shade, and the crops and the meadows in front of them, under the hard sunlight, were gold and green. Vigorous young wheat and barley and corn and beans—fairly blistering your eyes.”
Her visit is further tarnished by the presence of Irene, who is helping out with Sara, who is not what Juliet expected to find.
“Irene was a mother, too. She had a boy three years old and a daughter just under two. Their names were Trevor and Tracy. Their father had been killed last summer in an accident at the chicken barn where he worked. She herself was three years younger than Juliet—twenty-two.”
Irene’s character offers another perspective on Juliet’s home life. (Or, perhaps Irene gives voice to some of Juliet’s judgements, which she is unwilling to own?)
“Irene’s flickering pale eyes, indirect but measuring looks, competent hands. Her vigilance, in which there was something that couldn’t quite be called contempt.”
As does an encounter with a school chum, faced with Juliet and her defiantly-born-out-of-wedlock child, Penelope.
“He appraised her, covertly, perhaps he saw her now as a woman displaying the fruits of a boldly sexual life. Juliet, of all people. The gawk, the scholar.”
Years later, when Juliet discovers a letter in which she described these days to Eric, she is uncomfortable.
“When she read the letter, Juliet winced, as anybody does on discovering the preserved and disconcerting voice of some past fabricated self.”
But as those experiences are unfolding, she is even more uncomfortable with Sara’s exposure of a different perspective on the dynamics of this home, of her marriage to Juliet’s father.
“’You know I don’t mean it if I ever say mean things about Daddy. I know he loves me. He’s just unhappy.’”
Has Juliet never recognized that Sara might have had her own unhappinesses, her own grievances, her own disappointments?
Juliet, at twenty-five years old, is freshly struggling with difficult situations, incapable of managing the simplest answer.
Readers must wonder if she will find her voice in the next story, or whether the questions will continue to accumulate.
What do you think about Juliet? What does “Soon” add to your “Chance” understanding of her character?
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories in Runaway as I read through her work-to-date. She is one of my MRE authors and this is the third story in this collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. Next week, “Silence”.
Note: There are spoilers in the comments below.