Our second meeting down at Dudley Archive. Last month we chewed over Will and Tom by Matthew Plampin, and gave it a mixed review. It was lightweight compared to our choice for June.
Alice Munro, born 1931, is a Canadian writer of longstanding. Her settings range from small prairie towns to the snowy north of Ontario. Only occasionally does she take a big-city theme – when country folk are forced into the urban embrace, by fate. And destiny is very much her subject. She chronicles lives of insignificance, concluded by early death in many instances, or sullied by mistakes through marriage or though the avoidance of opportunity (sometimes coming to the same thing!). The stories (Dear Life, 2012) are about the relations between men and women, often fraught, occasionally peaceable, but never stationary. Feminist thinking informs this view of characters juxtaposed, and the power-relations between each – Munro is a contemporary writer in every sense. Though many of the men portrayed are monsters – the females too can be pretty second-rate! But no one is condemned, other than in what ensues for them. Although the stories end when they are in full-flow (one of our several criticisms) we are led to suspect a future of restricted lives and unresolved relationships.
From their lives of obscurity lived in grey, unmade landscapes there seems little redemption. Those who would offer them the steep and narrow path of belief are written off through their own awful personal conduct. And yet the human being, for all the failure, is not written off by Munro.
For all their imperfect natures there are hints that this array of modern, western characters has something to offer, even if it is only the bravery to carry on with unsatisfactory lives. This courage is repeated in the drifter, the dementia sufferer, the divorcee. ‘Not uplifting’ was the comment by one of the group. Alive Munro would never consciously aim to be. But that she shows something to love in every tarnished nature, may be of comfort to us all.
The Group Reading on the Rocks is a bunch of would-be-great-readers, who just find that they never have time to open a book! That there is a monthly meeting to give vent to powerful feelings engendered by the book (Depressing! Sleep-inducing! Ah, but true-to-life.) forces time to be made. As for the hour that concludes the experience of reading the book – it flies by all too quickly as we contend, disagree, laugh – and occasionally – see eye-to-eye!