March 5, 2012


By Alice Munro
~6800 words

In the 1970s, while her parents are teaching school in Ghana, a 13-year-old girl spends a year with her aunt and uncle in a small Canadian town.

The unnamed first-person narrator and main character is presumably telling the story in the present day—"All this happened in the seventies, though in that town and other small towns like it the seventies were not as we picture them now"—but the perspective is infused with the innocence of her 13-year-old self.

The narrator's guardians, Aunt Dawn and Uncle Jasper, are respectable citizens of the town in which they live. A strength of the story is the way in which their bourgeois existence is defamiliarized through the gaze of the adolescent main character, who finds her new environment to be a mystifying contrast to the more liberal, easy-going world of her parents:
Not to mention the sherry that succeeded the coffee. Sherry or port in crystal glasses of the correct shape and size, and also little cakes topped with shredded coconut, diamond- or crescent-shaped shortbread, chocolate wafers. I myself had never seen the like. My parents gave the kind of parties where people ate chili out of clay pots.
Through the eyes of the narrator the reader comes to discover, beneath the veneer of upper-class respectability, a domain of family secrets and mild dysfunctions and quiet pleasures. A perfectly normal world, in other words, populated by perfectly normal characters who, while competently portrayed, fail to grab the reader for much of the story. The generally flat diction does not help, nor do the jarring switches between the past and present tenses. The strong ending, however, redeems an otherwise marginal story.


1 comment:

  1. I agree with this assessment. However, Alice Munro has a story in the New Yorker every couple of months (or so it seems), and all of the stories have the same strengths and weaknesses. I'd sure like it if someone could explain what the attraction is. The stories are competent, but there's nothing really new about 'em.