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Monday, August 29, 2016

Reader's Diary #1366- Alice Munro: Amundsen


It's been so long since I've read anything by Alice Munro, I've mostly forgotten why I'm not a huge fan of her writing. Yes, as pro-Canadian lit as I am, that statement must seem rather shocking, but no, after reading several collections of Alice Munro, I knew that I did not care to read another. The only reason that I can recall now is that I found her supposedly "short" stories, too long and boring.

However, I did come across "Amundsen" a short story of hers that managed to fit into the pages of a New Yorker, and so thought I'd give that a shot.

I don't know that I'd go as far as calling "Amundsen" boring, but I'm also not sure that had it gone on for another 70 pages I would have wished to continue. There's something about it that seemed cold, calculating, and cynical. At first I thought it was Munro's delivery. The story is so tightly controlled near the beginning, especially revelations about the setting, that I felt as if Munro was dangling a carrot just out of reach. The place and time and other setting particulars were vague and more than a little confusing. Much detail came later and, I suppose, I've applauded other authors for similar tactics, slowly pulling back the curtain on the setting allows it to not stall the plot. Though in this case, I found it distracting.

This rigidity, however, is also manifested in the two main characters and the plot of their ill-fated love. Perhaps this was the point, that back in those days and circumstances, communication was stilted and many of those practical marriages of the time were disastrous; strangers marrying strangers because it was expected. Viewed in that light, I suppose "Amundsen" could be taken as a happy ending (spoiler: a wedding is called off). But it's the Munro version of a happy ending so don't expect balloons.

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