Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Free Radicals

Alice Munro is the Chekhov of the 21st Century. Here's her recent story in the New Yorker.
Read it and comment, if you like. I'd love to discuss it.

And if you like her, here's an interview.


Clifford Garstang said...

Okay, so if Nita didn't poison the guy, in the manner that she described in the story she told him, then isn't his death too much of a coincidence?

Lincoln Highwayman said...

"then isn't his death too much of a coincidence?"

In the hands of a lesser writer, maybe so.

But then again, even a merely "good" writer can easily get away with a single coincidence-- and if you happen to be Charles Dickens you can get away with a baker's dozen.

Maryanne Stahl said...

I don't think she had poison ready to hand. And I don't think she was a murderer--in fact, that would be contrary to the essential message of the story, which is, I think, the power of the life force, even in the weakest of us. she thinks she has nothing to live for--she is dying, her husband is dead, she can't even read. at first, she even thinks the intruder has nothing to take from her. but then she realizes that just because she may die soon doesn't mean she has to die right this minute. she chooses life.

and she does so by putting herself in the place of the person she hurt--her husband's ex. her humanity allows her to imagine what it was like for this other person, what it must be like to want to kill someone. and by doing this, by this essential good act of empathy (and the art of fiction) she saves her life. she gives the man a reason not to kill her, something he thinks he holds over her.

but he is a murderer, he doesn't respect the sanctity of life, he is reckless-- and so he dies.

anyway, that's how I see it.

Clifford Garstang said...

I agree that she has solved her problem and survived by concocting the false story about how she herself has killed. But there's still doubt in my mind because she's made such a convincing case about her knowledge of natural poisons. In fact, despite her clear statement that she isn't contemplating suicide, that's what her friends are worried about and so I can't help wondering if that isn't something she's prepared for. I suppose I need to read the story again to see if there's anything else to support this thought . . .

But if she didn't do it then I don't like the intruder's death. It's too convenient, to deserved. I would rather she imagine such a death than that it actually happen.

Does Munro often visit death upon the bad guys?

Maryanne Stahl said...

it's true her friends are worried and she does seem to know about poison...so it is reasonable to assume she has contemplated it. that contributes to the power of her decision to cling to life.

I don't know that Munro kills off bad guys...her human characters die, bad and good, as people do. this character, the intruder, had a death wish, don't you think? the opposite of Nita's life wish?

Xujun Eberlein said...

Ha, very interesting discussion here. I just read the story today and you guys got me think more. I like the story's idea, but I'm not convinced that the murderer could be so easily fooled. Even for an uneducated man it's hard to believe he didn't have any suspicion of why she told him about her crime.

Andy said...

I once read an Alice Munro story where an old woman tells her family about a dream of a crow. Later that day, she dies.

Munro generally practices realism. This is not a realist writing a story about a murderer (there was a man who killed his wife and children near me recently, it feels nothing like this story). This is a story about a woman telling herself a story.

She doesn't read any of her books because none of them will scratch the narrative itch she has.

The murderer is a double for her husband. He materializes in the place of their love making, he hangs out in the husband's domain (not in his brain, but in his deeper body, the cellar), she cooks him a mediocre meal like she did for her husband, and he surprises us by dying before her, also like her husband.

She has placed a male energy in her home, perhaps only in her "soul's eye" like a child might play house.

She wakes up like Dorothy waking in Kansas. Was Dorothy in Oz fantasy or realism? I think neither, I think the humanity of the munchkins, the tin men, the witches, the directors lent those scenes such humanity that they are something else.

Munro puts ink to paper, invests her humanity, also like a child playing house. Munro is writer playing house, the ink stands in for the imaginary pancakes.

My view.