Saturday, July 1, 2017

Alice Munro's Open Secrets

Open Secrets consists of eight stories, all but one of which first appeared in The New Yorker; the other one was in The Paris Review. By the time of this volume, Alice Munro was clearly a success, though, of course, the honors just kept coming.

Deservedly so, I'd say.

Before I'd moved to Canada, I hadn't read any Alice Munro; I would have said short stories about small-town life wasn't my sort of thing; I had a poor sense of New Yorker fiction from the 80s, when I subscribed for a bit and (you may have heard this story...) they piled up, largely unread. Once I was here, I thought, well, I should brush up on my CanLit. I thought I'll read Alice Munro and I'll start at the beginning.

I got to her second book, Lives of Girls and Women when I realized I hadn't known what I was talking about. It is distinctly a masterpiece.

But reading volume after volume of short stories by the same author is a way for them all to blend together and make less of an impression, so after that initial burst, I began to space them out a little more. The books, though, had entered the house.

This volume didn't disappoint. If you want to start with a single volume of Alice Munro, I would still recommend Lives of Girls and Women, but if you wanted to read just one story to see what you thought, the story "The Albanian Virgin" from this volume Open Secrets, has got to be one of her very best. The story opens with a Canadian woman Lottar captured by a band of Albanian bandits in the 1920s; she'd set off for an adventure from the port city of Bar (now in Montenegro) and her guide was shot in a feud. Her horse spooked and ran off, and Lottar was injured, and now she's the captive of this band that doesn't really want her, but is unwilling to help her return to civilization.

Then it's the 1950s, and Charlotte is telling this story to her friend, the owner of a bookshop, pitching it as a plot for a movie maybe. There are several more swift changes of place and time (Alice Munro is famous for these) and a surprising ending. Is Lottar Charlotte? Did the adventures actually happen? In the 1950s, Lottar is married to a Moroccan (or is he?) The story also serves as object lesson (or does it?) for the narrator. The story is 59 pages in my Penguin edition and it has enough event and complexity for a novel. It's just amazing.

Oh, and Happy Canada Day!

Read for My Reader's Block Mount TBR Challenge.

No comments:

Post a Comment