Postcard by Alice Munro, 1968
The magic trick:
Avoiding any cliché or stock character by including an array of imaginative and relatable details
In the midst of a February run of romance here on the SSMT site we’ll see all kinds of love stories. Perhaps too many love stories. You start to see clichés and stock characters emerge. Well, not here. Nothing to worry about along those lines at all.
Munro has a supersonic imagination. It doesn’t show up in flashy, dramatic ways. This isn’t science fiction or Ray Bradbury. Her work is always going to be rooted in the reality of the plain, old, normal world. No, her imagination lies in the details, the smallest little additions. The way the narrator laments the saliva in her hair but accepts it begrudgingly as a part of physical and romantic love. The way she summarizes Alma’s selfish “friendship” by saying she comes over every time she smells shepherd’s pie in the air. These are details that everyone can relate to, so they generalize the story even as they specify it. The protagonist rises above any notion of stock character. She is a nuanced individual. And that’s quite a trick on Munro’s part.
“What is she like?” I said in spite of myself.
“She’s no juvenile,” Grace said. “His age, anyway. What did I tell you it was his sister’s friend? And she won’t win any prizes in the looks department. Mind you she’s all right.”
“Is she big or little?” I couldn’t stop now. “Dark or fair?”
“She had a hat on so Grace couldn’t see the colour of her hair but she thought dark. She’s a big woman. Grace said she had a rear end on her like a grand piano. Maybe she has money.”
“Did Grace say that too?”
“No. I said it. Just speculating.”
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