Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Sentences: Alice Munro

Taking a page from Quivering Pen and Lynne's Book Notes, here are the best sentences I read this week. At the time, I was wondering how I could tweet them for fullest impact, but this is better:

From "Differently," published in Alice Munro's Friend of My Youth:

The bleak apartment in the run-down building, the bad-tempered old woman who was knitting a sweater, the doctor arriving in his shirtsleeves, carrying a brown-paper bag that Maya hysterically believed must contain the tools of his trade. In fact, it contained his lunch--an egg-and-onion sandwich. Maya had the smell of that in her face all the time he and Mme. Defarge were working her over.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Munro, Friend of My Youth

Alice Munro
Friend of My Youth
Vintage Contemporaries, 1990
#s in the I will read and take brief notes on 300 short stories series #34-43

Friend of My Youth
This is a nested narrative wherein the narrator has recurring dreams that her mother, afflicted by some kind of neurological disease at the end of her life, returns to the narrator fully formed and healthy. "I would say [to her dream mother] that I was sorry that I hadn't been to see her in such a long time--meaning not that I felt guilty but that I was sorry I had kept a bugbear in my mind, instead of this reality--and the strangest, kindest thing of all to me was her matter-of-fact reply. Oh well, she said, better late than never. I was sure I'd see you someday." The bulk of the story is another story, a memory of the mother right before she was married, when she taught school and boarded with a family who practiced an extreme form of Prebyterianism. Two sisters (one married, the other not) live in an unadorned, unimproved house, divided into two parts, one for the married couple and the other for Flora, the single woman and the teacher. Flora was engaged to Robert, but he impregnated the other sister and was forced to marry her. The narrator recalls all that her mother had told about this situation, then imagines how she would write the novel of the story, and in this imagining, she rehearses her own conflicted feelings about her own mother. It's a complex psychological study, worthy of another read.

Five Points
Brenda is married to the older, disabled Cornelius. He was crushed in a mine accident. Brenda is having an affair with Neil, three years younger, but who has some traits that resemble Cornelius's. The core of the story belongs to Brenda, but there is also a backstory that belongs to Neil. He tells Brenda about a girl who ran the coffee shop in Victoria, BC. Neil was part of the hippies that were emerging at the time; they would do drugs and hang around the shop. The girl who ran the shop was fat and unattractive; for some reason, she paid the boys to have sex with her and eventually, the boys ganged up on her and extorted her for money, which ended up ruining the family financially. Neil denies being part of the ordeal, but eventually admits that he received forty dollars.

Rumination on the nature of dreaming as it relates to the "other" state of infidelity:
In dreams you can have the feeling that you've had this dream before, that you have this dream over and over again, and you know that it's really nothing that simple. You know that there's a whole underground system that you can call 'dreams,' having nothing better to call them, and that this system is not like roads or tunnels but more like a live body network, all coiling and stretching, unpredictable but finally familiar--where you are now, where you've always been.
This story is complex in its sexuality, its ruminations on the nature of men, and of working. Brenda yearns to bask in the masculinity, wants somehow to surrender to it: "She loves the sight of Neil's bed--badly made...not a marriage bed or a bed of illness, comfort, complication. The bed of his lust and sleep, equally strenuous and oblivious. She loves the life of his body. so sure if its rights. She wants commands from him...to be his territory." Brenda's real marital life is about care taking now, and will be forever more. But she claims for herself the other relationship, even as it deepens and causes greater pain. In the end, they fight, a study in the psychology of communication, where each person willfully misunderstands the other to gain power.

Meneseteung
The narrator of this story recounts the life of a poet, a woman, orphaned and alone in a frontier town. The way the town newspaper (and by extension how the people of the town judge each other as people in small towns are wont to do) is key component. And by the end, it seems as though Almeda's life is conjecture of the narrator, a way to honor and give tribute to an artist who no one cared enough about to truly know as a person.

Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass
Hazel is visiting Scotland. She's retired, a widow. She goes to an inn where her husband once stayed when he was in the war, where he had a brief affair with a young girl named Antoinette, who is now aged and the owner of the same inn. Hazel wants to engage with these relics of Jack's past, but no one can (or will admit to) remembering him. It's a complex story with a ballad inserted that mirrors a situation of illegitimacy for a girl who lives with Jack's distant aunt and a man who eats daily at the inn.

Oranges and Apples
Story of a long marriage. A department store heir marries one of the clerks, a woman who has few ambitions other than to live and read and be part of the family. But a Polish man comes to town and some kind of relationship develops between the wife, Barbara, and the newcomer. The husband catches wind of it on an afternoon "that changed his life."

Pictures of the Ice

Goodness and Mercy
A mother and daughter (the mother is dying) take a cruise.

Oh, What Avails
A sister and brother, their lives together and apart. "Dead-Eyed Dick."

Differently
Cuckolding and punishing revenge amongst three couples in B.C.

Wigtime

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Betty Draper's comments were not out of character

In the first episode of the sixth season, Betty Draper glibly suggests to her husband that he "rape" the fifteen-year-old friend of Sally, Betty's daughter. Henry looked shocked (as anyone would) and many people who blog about Mad Men said that she had crossed a line, even for Betty. But Betty has always crossed lines of behavior, whether for shock value or for the volt of adrenaline that Don mentions elsewhere in the episode. I can think of a number of incidents:

1. She shot the neighbor's pigeons.
2. She manipulated a situation where a friend succumbed to lust and then Betty shamed her for it.
3. She teased the mechanic in the dead of night on a dark road.
4. She seduced a stranger in a bar in the backroom.
5. She allowed the neighbor boy, Glen, to cut a lock of her hair and didn't fully realize why the mother thought it was weird.
6. She became angry and jealous because Glen became friends with Sally.
7. And in this episode, she hangs out in the flophouse and reprimands the youths for being rude.

Betty routinely plays with boundaries. She's not a villain. But she is clearly struggling with her prescribed roles and is complex; her behavior is often in reaction to the way she is treated by men, especially in the earlier seasons. Mad Men would suffer for not having her in the show, though it would be interesting to see her find a purpose and thrive in it.