‘Night’ by Alice Munro

Night by Alice Munro, 2012

The magic trick:

Using a single sentence to convey more than one message

Alice Munro often seems to deliver eight stories in one. She tells some things and implies hundreds others. It’s really pretty amazing. So how does she do it? One of her go-to moves is to make nearly every sentence pull double-duty. Consider the section in “Night,” when the narrator describes her forays into some kind of sleepwalking:

Of course there were no streetlights – we were too far from town. … The front and back and side lawns were easy to negotiate because I had mown them myself with the idea of giving us some townlike respectability.

Ostensibly she is describing the scene. But it isn’t easy to track the through-line of angst regarding their country address. The story never really addresses that as an outright theme, but it’s there. The reader knows that the narrator is insecure, embarrassed, and even angry about her neighbors in the city somehow being better than her family. So it becomes one of those underlying stories within the story that suggests all kinds of other character motivations and conflicts. Suddenly, the reader feels like they have read eight stories in one. The master has done it again.

And that’s quite a trick on Munro’s part.

The selection:

I was not myself.

I had been hearing that said of people now and then, all my life, without thinking what it could mean.

So who do you think you are, then?

I’d been hearing that too, without attaching to it any real menace, just taking it as a sort of routine jeering.

Think again.

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