How I Met My Husband by Alice Munro, 1974
The magic trick:
The tug of war between city and country life being fought over the narrator
The story’s structure plays coy with the story’s title, and that’s fun, but let’s look instead at the more subtle trick at work here: the way Munro weaves the tug of war between city and country life into the subtext. Actually, subtext probably isn’t the correct word choice. Edie, our narrator, discusses the differences she notices between her more rural life back home and her new, more modern life with the Peebles family throughout the entire story. Munro is so clever at tucking the social comment behind the more pressing concerns of the plot.
Edie is at the center of the push and pull. And in fact, at age 15, the biggest tug of war for her is likely the transition from child to adult, but it takes the form most often in her sorting out country from city. She judges harshly the three women around her, developing a sense of competition with them. Meanwhile, she either forgives or fails to notice the lack of country manners being demonstrated by the men around her.
The narration is that of an adult looking back on her teenaged years. Notably, Munro leaves the immature judgments in. Never in the story does adult Edie criticize herself for failing to recognize the quiet city vs. country war under the surface. Maybe she still doesn’t realize it was a silent force at work then. Maybe it’s a tug of war that still plays out in her life as an adult. Either way, it’s masterful use of the story behind the plot. And that’s quite a trick on Munro’s part.
I was just setting the dessert down when Loretta Bird arrived, out of breath, at the screen door.
“I thought it was going to crash into the house and kill youse all!”
She lived on the next place and Peebleses thought she was a country-woman, they didn’t know the difference. She and her husband didn’t farm, he worked on the roads and had a bad name for drinking. They had seven children and couldn’t get credit at the HiWay Grocery. The Peebleses made her welcome, not knowing any better, as I say, and offered her dessert.
Dessert was never anything to write home about, at their place. A dish of Jell-O or sliced bananas or fruit out of a tin. “Have a house without a pie, be ashamed until you die,” my mother used to say, but Mrs. Peebles operated differently.
Loretta Bird saw me getting the can of peaches.
“Oh, never mind,” she said. “I haven’t got the right kind of a stomach to trust what comes out of those tins, I can only eat home canning.”
I could have slapped her. I bet she never put down fruit in her life.