A Victory for the Short Story

October 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

I would like to think that the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Alice Munro this morning is a further testament to the resurgence of the short story.

Munro’s central Canadian settings give her a vastness of frame on which to maneuver her characters, rejecting the tired idea that short stories can only surround the episodic and incidental. At The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, Sasha Weiss says, “Munro is one of those writers who, no matter how popular her books are, is our writer. This may have to do with the frank intimacy of her tone, which is stripped of ornament and fuss, yet also, in its plainness, contains huge amounts of terrible, sublime, and contradictory feeling.”

Among the stories featured in the New Yorker archive is “Passion,” from 2004:

Most of the waitresses left after Labor Day, to go back to school or college. But the hotel was going to stay open till October, for Thanksgiving, with a reduced staff—Grace among them. There was talk, this year, of opening again in early December for a winter season, or at least a Christmas season, but nobody on the kitchen or dining-room staff seemed to know if this would really happen. Grace wrote to her aunt and uncle as if the Christmas season were a certainty and they should not expect her back anytime soon.

Why did she do this? It was not as if she had other plans. Maury was in his final year at college. She had even promised to take him home at Christmas to meet her family. And he had said that Christmas would be a good time to make their engagement formal. He was saving up his summer wages to buy her a diamond ring.

She, too, had been saving her wages, so that she would be able to take the bus to Kingston, to visit him during his school term.

She spoke of this, promised it, so easily. But did she believe, or even wish, that it would happen?

“Maury is a sterling character,” Mrs. Travers said. “Well, you can see that for yourself. He will be a dear, uncomplicated man, like his father. Not like his brother. Neil is very bright. I don’t mean that Maury isn’t—you certainly don’t get to be an engineer without a brain or two in your head—but Neil is . . . He’s deep.” She laughed at herself. “Deep unfathomable caves of ocean bear— What am I talking about? For a long time, Neil and I didn’t have anybody but each other. So I think he’s special. I don’t mean he can’t be fun. But sometimes people who are the most fun can be melancholy, can’t they? You wonder about them. But what’s the use of worrying about your grown-up children? With Neil I worry a lot, with Maury only a tiny little bit. And Gretchen I don’t worry about at all. Because women have always got something, haven’t they, to keep them going?”

And at The Millions, Ben Dolnick offers “A Beginner’s Guide to Alice Munro,” from July 2012.

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