October 11, 2013
In honor, and celebration, of Alice Munro receiving the Nobel Prize for literature (!), I pulled out one of her books last night and read The Progress of Love (the title story from the book The Progress of Love). It is so hopeful for me, to see a writer that explores the minutiae of the human experience…the everyday, simple, complex, experience of relationships: of living, loving, aching, wanting, wondering…to see that writer recognized for the necessity of this work by being bestowed with this highest honor.
Munro’s kind of narrative has fallen out of favor it seems, replaced instead (in our country in particular) by more “exciting” works that focus on driving plots, action, events. And while I do enjoy, on occasion, books like these, they will never transport me the way these quieter fictions can, and do. Munro often reminds me of Eudora Welty, one of my favorite writers of the short story form. Both women have the incredible gift of being able to present a fully formed picture of the life within their characters: their minds, their hearts, their faults…and yet leave so much left unsaid, and un-examined, at the same time. In lieu of answers, their stories provide windows, open doors, so that the story may continue long after the final word has been read, allowing it to live on inside the reader. And what better gift can a writer give, than that?
…an excerpt from The Progress of Love:
My father did not stand in the kitchen watching my mother feed the money into the flames. It wouldn’t appear so. He did not know about it – it seems fairly clear, if I remember everything, that he did not know about it until that Sunday afternoon in Mr. Florence’s Chrysler, when my mother told them all together. Why, then, can I see the scene so clearly, just as I described it to Bob Marks (and to others – he was not the first)? I see my father standing by the table in the middle of the room – the table with the drawer in it for knives and forks, and the scrubbed oilcloth on top – and there is the box of money on the table. My mother is carefully dropping the bills into the fire. She holds the stove lid by the blackened lifter in one hand. And my father, standing by, seems not just to be permitting her to do this but to be protecting her. A solemn scene, but not crazy. People doing something that seems to them natural and necessary, and the other believes that the important thing is for that person to be free, to go ahead. They understand that other people might not think so. They do not care.
“The complexity of things — the things within things — just seems to be endless. I mean nothing is easy, nothing is simple.” (taken from an article in the New York Times). This sums up the vast, endless territory from which Munro draws from to construct her stories. And we are the lucky recipients.