And, “Who Do You Think You Are?”

McClelland & Stewart, 2006

McClelland & Stewart, 2006

As readers approach the final tale in this collection, it seems appropriate to have it titled with a question.

Whatever might be resolved in the effort of creating a narrative in which to secure one’s ancestors, one could not help but have as many new questions at the end of the project as one had at the beginning.

The collection began as a quest, for understanding or for inclusion, for identification or imagination. But there is no resolution that the author can create. Ultimately she must live the resolution.

The closest the young Alice can get to concluding this work is to have the page count halt, so that the book can continue to pose the questions long after she has put down her pen.

“What does it matter to me?” (“The View from Castle Rock”)

“A life in the bush, away from the towns, on the edge of the farms—how could it be managed?” (“Working for a Living”)

“You see the Lord’s purpose?” (Home)

The gap between the lived experience and the ancestral record on the pages of The View from Castle Rock is vast.

Just as the series of physiographical maps of Southern Ontario by Lyman Chapman and Donald Putnam must representationally record the landscape on a flat piece of paper, just as a mammogram records an eruption in the landscape of Alice’s body, these records only hint at the reality which lurks beneath their surfaces.

“There was a lump deep in my left breast, which neither my doctor nor I had been able to feel. We still could not feel it. My doctor said that it was shown on the mammogram to be about the size of a pea.”

In the body, on the land:

“The ice has staged its conquests and retreats here several times, withdrawing for the last time about fifteen thousand years ago.
Quite recently, you might say. Quite recently now that I have got used to a certain way of reckoning history.”

How one reckons, history or experience, changes too. “So you have to keep checking, taking in the changes, seeing things while they last.”

If one continues to pose questions, one ‘s perspective continually shifts. But, of course, not everyone is the questioning sort.

“It is difficult to make such requests in reference libraries because you will often be asked what it is, exactly, that you want to know, and what do you want to know it for?”

In fact, those who question would appear to be in the minority.

“And wondering about olden days—what used to be here, what happened there, why, why?—was as sure a way to make yourself stand out as any.”

Which is why the questioners often seek one another out. Why they connect.

“Do you think they put any oil in that lamp?” the younger Alice asks her husband.

And, just as I am reading her question, I am asking the same question in my own mind. (One might say that is because I have read this collection before. Perhaps that’s true, but that was almost ten years ago. It’s simply the question which seems natural to me to ask.)

And she answers, in a fashion.

“He knows at once what I am talking about. He says that he has wondered the same thing.”

Did you?

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 second-last story in this collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. Next week, “Messenger”.

Note: There are spoilers in the comments below.