I want to write about this story in more detail soon, because I think it’s remarkable. But I want to read it again before I do. In the meantime, let me show you two passages from “Carried Away,” collected in her book Open Secrets. I have somehow managed to miss reading her work until now. I think I’m about to go on a binge to compensate for lost time.
The story starts out being a correspondence between a librarian and a soldier during the First World War. The soldier had seen her in passing when he lived in town; she had never taken notice of him. He is taken with her memory and starts writing letters to her. A muted, self-conscious love begins to grow. In this first paragraph she is remembering a letter she sent to another lover, years earlier.
Her last letter had been firm and stoical, and some consciousness of herself as a heroine of love’s tragedy went with her around the country as she hauled her display cases up and down the stairs of small hotels and talked about Paris styles and said that her sample hats were bewitching, and drank her solitary glass of wine. If she’d had anybody to tell, though, she would have laughed at just that notion. She would have said love was all hocus-pocus, a deception, and she believed that. But at the prospect she still felt a hush, a flutter along the nerves, a bowing down of sense, a flagrant prostration.
And a few paragraphs later is this letter from the soldier:
I am glad to hear you do not have a sweetheart though I know that is selfish of me. I do not think you and I will ever meet again. I don’t say that because I’ve had a dream about what will happen or am a gloomy person always looking for the worst. It just seems to me that it is the most probable thing to happen, though I don’t dwell on it and go along every day doing the best I can to stay alive. I am not trying to worry you or get your sympathy either but just explain how the idea I won’t ever see Carstairs again makes me think I can say anything I want. I guess it’s like being sick with a fever. So I will say I love you. I think of you up on a stool at the Library reaching to put a book away and I come up and put my hnds on your waist and lift you down, and you turning around inside my arms as if we agreed about everything.
I’m an irredeemable romantic. It will be my doom. But holy Christ, I love these passages!
2 thoughts on “Passages from a story by Alice Munro”
It’s remarkable how different the two voices are, how she captures both the librarian thinking and the soldier writing. I’ve never read her stories, but I should, shouldn’t I?
You really should. What’s just as striking is the story’s structure; every time I thought I knew what kind of story it was, it changed on me. I love this writer.