Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Keep Reading

So you’ve been reading Alice Munro and you’re feeling a little devastated---but in a good way--- a real feeling--- exquisite, even---because Munro has told you the thing you didn’t know you knew.  And she did it slowly, so you could take it all in and remember to breathe. 

And you aren’t a bit surprised when you learn that Alice Munro has had a “first-reading agreement” with The New Yorker since 1978.  Yes, 1978.  And say what you will about The New Yorker (for one thing, the poetry is frequently dreadful), this is impressive.

So, in case you haven’t read it yet, here’s a passage from “What Is Remembered” (Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage---terrific book title---2001). 

All you need to know is that Meriel’s husband, Pierre, has died and she is recalling their long life together and, also, a brief encounter she had, many years earlier, with another man, Asher.

There was another sort of life she could have had---which was not to say she would have preferred it.  It was probably because of her age (something she was always forgetting to take account of) and because of the thin cool air she breathed since Pierre’s death, that she could think of that other life simply as a kind of research which had its own pitfalls and achievements.

Maybe you didn’t find out so much, anyway.  Maybe the same thing over and over---which might be some obvious but unsettling fact about yourself.  In her case, the fact that prudence---or at least some economical sort of emotional management---had been her guiding light all along.  The little self-preserving movement he made, the kind and deadly caution, the attitude of inflexibility that had grown a bit stale with him, like an outmoded swagger.  She could view him now with an everyday mystification, as if he had been a husband.

She wondered if he’d stay that way, or if she had some new role waiting for him, some use still to put him to in her mind, during the time ahead.

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