Axis by Alice Munro, 2011
The magic trick:
Breaking the story into three key scenes that show the themes among a larger story that is told
Oh, look – another absurdly good Alice Munro story.
How does she do it? I really don’t know.
This one, like many of her works, covers a large span of time. A lifetime, really.
Much of this story carries through on narrative authority. She tells us about the characters, tells us about what they’re like, what they do, and what happens to them. This allows huge blocks of time to pass very quickly.
Munro then focuses on three key scenes to get to the heart of the story.
One: Avie and Grace discuss Avie’s nightmare.
Two: Grace and Royce get caught in bed by her mother.
Three: Royce and Avie meet up decades later and catch up.
The story’s larger picture would not become clear if the scenes weren’t so amazingly well done. And the story would feel episodic if the scenes and narrative didn’t connect so well into the larger picture. Win-win. And that’s quite a trick on Munro’s part.
Avie waited until they were comfortable to tell Grace about her dream.
“You must never tell anybody,” she said.
In the dream, she was married to Hugo, who really was hanging around as if he hoped to marry her, and she had a baby, who cried day and night. It howled, in fact, till she thought she would go crazy. At last she picked up this baby—picked her up, there never was any doubt that it was a girl—and took her down to some dark basement room and shut her in there, where the thick walls insured that she wouldn’t be heard. Then she went away and forgot about her. And it turned out that she had another girl baby anyway, one who was easy and delightful and grew up without any problems.
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