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June 28, 2008

Alice Munro’s short story “Deep-Holes” is in the June 30, 2008 edition of The New Yorker. It is a quick and easy read. It made me sad. I believe this is only the third short story of Munro’s that I have read. The first story was “How I Met My Husband.” Then a few years later, I read “Boys and Girls.” Unfortunately, neither story left much of an impression. Munro is Canadian. There is a joke in there somewhere, Canadians and lack of impact, dullness. Nevertheless, I do not know any Canadians in real life. I only know about the allusion because American pop culture often jokes about the lackluster of Canadians. I can imagine what the Canadians could say about American pop culture.

As I recall, Munro’s “Boys and Girls” is about a pre-pubescent girl, perhaps a tomboyish girl who ends up crying because her farmer-hunter father shoots and kills an animal. Her father dismisses her tears as nothing more than what is expected from girls.

I will always remember Munro’s “How I Met My Husband” as the story that earned me an F. Or should I say I earned the F, the story just existed. I still don’t know why I picked that story it was not even exciting. There was a woman, maybe she was a teenager, a pilot, and a mailman and a mix up or maybe someone lost her virginity or was left at the altar or she was poor living with a richer family in the country. Maybe I was stuck with the story because I chose too late. I was in a freshmen composition class, but not the first half, when it is all composition, but the second half, when students start reading literature and writing essays about that literature. It is coming back to me. We had to write a research paper, no more easy narrative, cause and effect, and descriptive essays but a full-blown research paper. No two students could write about the same story or maybe it was no three students. I waited so long to commit that I was stuck with a smaller selection. It seems that everyone was so intrigued with Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and was mostly disappointed that that story was already spoken for, but really, I was not. It was a scary story and to be honest I really do not like to relive those types of situations when I see/experience or could possibly see/experience situations like that in reality. With age, I am learning that I protect myself all the time from possible emotional trauma. Perhaps I suffer from PTSS, or maybe not. I have always reserved that diagnosis for people who I think deserve the compassion more than me because their trauma always seem to be more significant and more heart wrenching than mine.

Even though Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” was an interesting read, I did not want to do a research paper on it because I had just finished a book report on Four Hours in My Lai for a freshmen history class and was not over that trauma. I can only do Vietnam in little bites. Nor did I want to tackle Margaret Atwood’s “Rape Fantasies.” The instructor removed Frank Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” off the option list. She said she was so over that story. According to her, every student always wants to write about “The Metamorphosis.” I had to laugh some three years later when my daughter and I was sitting in a San Diego restaurant and a young woman and man was on what appeared to be a date. I could hear her explain the story to him like it was the first and only story she had ever read. Nine years later I had another instructor, actually a professor remove Joyce Carol Oates’ short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” off the syllabus. Blasphemy! Figures though, he was a staunch Bush supporter. This was spring 2003, at the height of rah rah God Bless America. Not that an Oates’ story and a Bush supporter mean anything other than me concluding that a rah rah God Bless America male type would not particularly care about reading a feminist writer such as Oates.

The short story for our research paper had to come out of our Introduction to Literature book. I could kick myself now because I don’t know why I did not select Frank O’ Connor’s “Guests of the Nation” or certainly Zora Neal Hurston’s “Sweat.” I read “Sweat” to my friend who visited here a few months ago. She had a problem reading the dialect so I told her I would read it to her when she got here. It is a little complicated but once you get into it is becomes easier. I love that story.

The young men in the class devoured John Updike, Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, who knows why. Okay, so Hawthorne and Poe are all right, now that I do not immediately reject male authors on principle, but I still say Updike is over-rated. Big time. Moreover, when I see his little essay in an issue of The New Yorker or is it The Atlantic (shows how much I care) I just roll my eyes and turn the page. Yes. Yes. I did give his “Rumor” and “A&P” a chance. B-O-R-I-N-G.

To be honest I just did not want to do the research paper. No real reason why, I just did not. I know because it was tedious work and I never wanted to find someone to agree with me, I just wanted to write my opinion about the piece and leave it at that. Also, it was a time before free and assessable Internet. To get your hands on literary criticism pertaining to a particular story or even an article that could be tied into your story of choice you had to comb through volumes of literary criticism, like encyclopedias. And all articles on a particular subject was not bound together either. I don’t remember how it worked, I think it was listed by author, but not your story’s author, but the author doing the criticism. Or maybe subject or date. If what you wanted was in a magazine, you had to request the magazine from the library’s archives and then either read it right there in the library and make little notes on note cards, including all the citing information (or consider it lost forever) or pay a nickel or dime to copy the article so you can read it at a later date. Of course, if it turns out to be a useless article, the expense of copying and the time waiting for the copying and then reading it had been wasted. JSTOR, Academic Search Premier and other similar sites have been a present from the Gods. Really. This was only 1994. Wow.

Then there was the whole showing your progress that I always hated. I hated it because procrastinators often have no progress to show. I was excused at first because in March I had sinus surgery and was out for a week or two. Then in April my father died. By May I was not done, actually I had not started. The instructor wanted me to just throw something together and be happy with a C. But I had to have an A because all the rest of my work other than the paper had been an A. So I asked for an I. She warned me, “everyone that I have ever given an I to, ended up with an F.” No no I will finish the paper. I did not. My I turned into an F. I liked that instructor a lot too but never saw her again. Too ashamed of my laziness I suppose. So, that is what Alice Munro reminds me of, my F, an F in the field that I now adore the most, Literature.

Anyway, Munro’s short story “Deep-Holes” is thought provoking. At the beginning of the story, the limited omniscient narrator provides a good example of prejudices against mothers who dare breastfeed while doing other chores. In all, I mostly like it because it does not demand that you walk away from it with a specific lesson, thought, or conclusion. The final two sentences say it all, but not necessary pertaining to the story but to other things and people I have been thinking about lately, “And it was possible, too, that age could become her ally, turning her into somebody she didn’t know yet. She has seen that look of old people, now and then — clear-sighted but content, on islands of their own making.”

  1. Mary Sunshine permalink
    June 29, 2008 2:02 am

    Alice Munro is a treat!

    I’ve read all her books. The first one I read was “Lives of Girls and Women”. Then I had to read all the rest.

    Her books are strongly women-themed, and all her short stories read like novels.

    She can sketch decades of a woman’s life in a few paragraphs.

  2. Kitty Glendower permalink
    June 29, 2008 2:11 am

    Hi Mary Sunshine. Have not seen you in a while.

    Yes, I think this story has convinced me to read more of Munro. I will check out “Lives of Girls and Women.”

    At this very minute, I am reading Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad.

  3. Professor Zero permalink
    June 30, 2008 3:40 am

    That’s a great ending. Where I’m living now there are 3 little old ladies and they’re all like that, it’s great.

  4. CountryDew permalink
    July 1, 2008 11:20 am

    I was struck by your comments about procrastination. I have that problem too. Not with my paid writing or my school work (when I was in college) generally, but with things that mean something to *me*. My novel languishes in a drawer. I don’t write poetry any more. Things that really matter to me assume this air of neglect and unimportance that I simply can’t shake. So I have to give myself an “F” on those things I most want. It’s weird.

  5. Level Best permalink
    July 2, 2008 5:46 pm

    I would love an island of my own making, particularly after the year women have had so far. Thank you for this post!

  6. Hesperis permalink
    July 5, 2008 7:10 am

    It’s amazing how Alice has limned the outline’s of a woman’s life through her own, yet not her own. “Lives of Girls and Women” and “Something I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You” are both wonderful books of stories of young girls, adolescents, young women, but always in relation to a community of women. And men. One of my favourites has always been “Who Do You Think You Are?”, I guess in part because I heard that phrase as a girl and young woman whenever a family member or teacher thought I was getting too independent or assertive or their liking. Uppity. The notion that if you think you’re worth something, you must also be thinking you’re better than someone else. The threat that young women can sometimes pose to older women in a male centered world. Oh she made so much sense of it.

    I feel as though I’ve aged with Alice, poised just a bit behind her, so that she can give me my map after I’ve followed in her footsteps, help me to define my experience and my life.

    I can’t remember what book the story is from, but she wrote one called “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”. Last year, it was made into a movie called “Away From Her” with a wonderful Canadian actor, Gordon Pinsent, and with Julie Christie, who was absolutely luminous. It was the best screen play from a story or book I think I’ve ever seen. Christie was nominated for a best actress Oscar and some people think, should have won.

    Alice will be there for her readers long after most writers are forgotten.

  7. Mary Sunshine permalink
    May 27, 2012 3:47 pm


    I came back to read this again, because I’m reading a newly-discovered book of Alice Munro short stories right now. This is a micro Alice-Munro-affinity-group.

  8. Mary Sunshine permalink
    May 27, 2012 5:44 pm

    Hi Kitty,

    The title of the anthology is “Open Secrets” (1995, Penguin Books), eight stories.

    I just finished reading the first one, “Carried Away” , 58 pages long. It actually takes a woman’s life from her early twenties to its end, in her sixties – along with a cast of carefully drawn characters, and lots of plot surprises.

    I don’t know where you’ll find that story, other than in this book. As I started to read this book, I thought: ” !! I know what I’ll do !! – – when I finish the book, I’m going to send it to Kitty ” …. so that’s what I’ll do. 🙂

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