‘Fiction’ by Alice Munro

Fiction by Alice Munro, 2007

The magic trick:

Starting the story with omniscient perspective before setting up a series of questions that depend on the reliability of the protagonist’s point of view

The title hints at a meta quality, and Munro doesn’t disappoint.

The crucial scene is a book signing, with the central question resting on whether or not the author in question is in fact the author in question. We also get some hilarious references to dust-jacket author photos.

But make not mistake, it’s not simply a funny, self-referential riff on writing. It’s an excellent, excellent story that addresses memory and identity and the way we start anew at various points in life.

Structurally, it’s a doozy. We begin by meeting a couple and then soon thereafter witnessing their dissolution. Flash forward 40 years to a party, and we have the same woman with a much different life and a whole new cast of characters. The connecting line becomes a young writer who attends the party.

Is the young writer the daughter of the woman who had the affair with our protagonist’s husband way back at the beginning of the story? The book she’s written sure seems to be about our protagonist. If it is, what was our protagonist doing back then? If it isn’t, is our protagonist simply losing her mind?

The structure of the story, specifically the way we have unbiased perspective on the collapse of her marriage early in life, gives us the necessary material to try to answer these questions. And that’s quite a trick on Munro’s part. 

The selection:

“So who was that girl in the black dress?” says Joyce. “The one who walked out on the game?”

“Christie? You must mean Christie. Christie O’Dell. She’s Justin’s wife, but she has her own name. You know Justin.”

“Of course I know Justin. I just didn’t know he was married.”

“Ah, how they all grow up,” says Tommy, teasing.

“Justin’s thirty,” he adds. “She’s possibly older.”

Jay says, “Definitely older.”

“She’s an interesting-looking girl,” says Joyce. “What’s she like?”

“She’s a writer. She’s okay.”

Jay, bending over the sink, makes a noise that Joyce cannot interpret.

“Inclined to be rather aloof,” Tommy says. He speaks to Jay. “Am I right? Would you say that?”

“She thinks she’s hot shit,” Jay says distinctly.

“Well, she’s just got her first book published,” Tommy says. “I forget what it’s called. Some title like a how-to book, I don’t think it’s a good title. You get your first book out, I guess you are hot shit for a while.”

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