The Bear Came Over The Mountain by Alice Munro, 1999
The magic trick:
Establishing Fiona and Grant first as a young couple before telling the story of their lives as senior citizens
Welcome to another Alice Munro Week at SSMT. She’s the best we got, so enjoy.
“The Bear Came Over The Mountain” is one of her best. The title totally throws me, though. If anyone can please explain to me what the title is all about, please comment.
Anyway, it’s a story about an old couple that begins with them as a young couple. This is absolutely crucial to the story’s effects, even as the opening section with them as young adults is probably less than 10 percent of the text.
One: short as it may be, the section establishes the couple in the reader’s mind as young, as someone else’s children, as dependents. This is so important because of course the bulk of the story illustrates the heartbreaking aging process. It wouldn’t be nearly as effective a portrait without that contrast that remains in the reader’s mind.
Two: the opening section also establishes Grant’s passive character. He agrees to get married because, why not? He follows Fiona’s lead at every turn. He establishes his own moral boundaries at work and within the marriage based not on what he believes but only on what the people around him do. Again, this sets up contrast when looking at the decisions he makes at the story’s conclusion.
All in all, a great story. And that’s quite a trick on Munro’s part.
He thought maybe she was joking when she proposed to him, on a cold bright day on the beach at Port Stanley. Sand was stinging their faces and the waves delivered crashing loads of gravel at their feet.
“Do you think it would be fun—” Fiona shouted. “Do you think it would be fun if we got married?”
He took her up on it, he shouted yes. He wanted never to be away from her. She had the spark of life.