Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Too Much Happiness: 'Fiction' and 'Wenlock Edge'

These next short stories were a little less coherent, in my mind.

'Fiction' is about broken marriages, and, I suppose, about how one person's experiences with someone is viewed differently by the other person. If that's not clear, I'm sorry.

We are told the story of Joyce and her first marriage, and how it collapsed when Jon falls for his apprentice, making a family with her and her daughter.
It is pretty standard: Joyce is of course waiting for Jon to realise his mistake, and to witness Joyce as the sparkling socialite she has been forced to become in order to prove that he's missing out, but also that she's not just going to sit around waiting for him. Of course, he never does.

The story skips forward to when she is married to her current husband, who'd also been married before - twice before - and they are having a house party of some sort, with various other couples and broken marriages involved. At the party, Joyce encounters a teenager whom she vaguely recognises. She learns that she is a newly published author, and so investigates her book. It is a sort of biography, and it becomes clear - to Joyce, at least - that this girl was the daughter of the woman Jon left her for.

Or was it? There are some things she doesn't remember at all, but a lot of it "seems familiar". Perhaps her story is just something that commonly happens with people, or perhaps it is viewing it from the perspective of the child striving for her stepfather's ex's affection as a violin teacher that made it both familiar and strange.

The story is not really resolved, other than Joyce sees the girl at a book signing, but is unrecognised or acknowledged, leaving us and Joyce musing on the idea of stories and life, and how a person's life will appear fictitious to other people.

I wasn't entirely sure what Munro's point was with this story. Perhaps I've hit the nail on the head (urgh, I'm talking in clich├ęs!) or perhaps I've missed the point entirely. Or maybe I'm being over analytical.

Wenlock Edge
This story  is entirely different. I don't quite know what the main moral of it is, but it was certainly different to all the other stories I've read so far in this book.

The narrator is at university, and through her we experience her strange relationship with her maternal uncle, Ernie, and the life of her mysterious and worldly room-mate, Nina.  The narrator is an English major, and lives in her literature. Nina however has been married and had three children - whom she has left behind her - and has a strange benefactor and has experienced more of the real world than the narrator, which leaves the narrator feeling a little foolish.
Despite this, it is clear that the narrator is somewhat judgemental of those around her, sizing them up to what she expects them to be from her literature. Nina doesn't know where all the countries she has visited are on the map, and the girls downstairs don't behave or discuss things that students 'should', rather they behave like common 'bankers' or 'accountants'.

Reality is thrust upon her however when she has to take Nina's place at dinner with Nina's benefactor. She is told to strip naked, and to prove that she is not "just a book worm", she does so. The almost casual way that she has dinner with this elderly and fully clothed man is actually quite stark. (I had to use the word stark in a nudity context, I'm sorry.)
When she reads a poem to this strange man, she feels at ease - comfortable with the poem and its words, as it is one of her favourites. In a way, she emerges herself in her literature to the point where she can not understand what reality is. This entire story is so surreal, that after a while the narrator becomes uncomfortable with what she has done, and the reality of that evening.

Nina, in the meantime, runs off and lives for a short while with the narrator's uncle, and even mentions marriage. But the narrator, unhappy with this turn of events, gives the strange old man her uncle's address, knowing that Nina would be retrieved and taken away. In some ways, she tampers with other people's lives, as though they were fiction and she was writing their lives the way she thinks they ought to be written.
For more on this idea and the idea of metafiction, which this is vaguely touching on, see this blog entry.

The whole story is of a different tone to the others I've read so far, though I'm not sure it's the least enjoyable. I'm not even sure it's the strangest one in the collection, either.

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