Short Story Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Ann Munro was born in 1931 in southwest Ontario Province, Canada. She grew up in that area, eventually attending college and settling with her husband in British Columbia.
Munro uses her familiarity with the Ontario province as the setting for many of her stories. Like so many authors I admire, she pays tribute to her ‘sense of place’ with rich details about the region’s natural settings.
The stories in the collection I am reading, titled Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage focus on middle-aged and elderly relationships. Although Munro doesn’t specify, the stories seem likely set no later than the 1950s.
Munro’s father was a fox and mink farmer. My favorite story in the collection, “Nettles”, is a story told by a young daughter of a fox and mink farmer who befriends the son of an itinerant well-driller during the summer a well is being drilled on her father’s farm.
The daughter does not realize how abruptly she will lose all communication with her close companion when the well has been drilled and the driller takes his son with him to his next job.
A chance encounter between them as adults is as realistic and poignant as those many of us have experienced in our lives. While never specifically mentioning regrets, what-if’s or what-is, these are universal human feelings subtly expressed through Munro’s quiet writing..
These are not action stories, rather as one reviewer wrote, they “embed more than announce; reveal more than parade.”
I felt as if I was drifting in a canoe down a lazy river watching the subtle interactions between humans that so shape our lives even when we don’t realize it until the moment is long gone. Love, work, family – any one of those can fail, and time marches forward in ways not always conducive to happy endings.
The following is taken from “Nettles”:
Our farm was small – nine acres. It was small enough for me to have explored every part of it, and every part had a particular look and character, which I could not have put into words. It was easy to see what would be special about the wire shed with the long, pale horse carcasses hung from brutal hooks, or about the trodden blood-soaked ground where they had changed from live horses into those supplies of meat. But there were other things, such as the stones on either side of the barn gangway that had just as much to say to me, though nothing memorable had ever occurred there.
On one side there was a big smooth whitish stone that bulged out and dominated all the others, and so that side had to me an expansive and public air, and I would always choose to climb that way rather than on the other side, where the stones were darker and clung together in a more mean-spirited way.
Each of the trees on the place had likewise an attitude and a presence – the elm looked serene and the oak threatening, the maples friendly and workaday, the hawthorn old and crabby.
Is it any wonder a nature-lover like me thinks Alice tells a good story? Soulful humming for the dog days of August.