‘Corrie’ by Alice Munro

Corrie by Alice Munro, 2010

The magic trick:

Moving the story very quickly across three decades

We start the second half of our Canada series with a very good Alice Munro story from very late in her career.

Before we begin, though, I definitely want to point readers toward the amazing post about this story on the Reading The Short Story website. The blogger, Charles May, has a really excellent breakdown of the way Alice Munro changed certain key details, including the ending, in its various publications. It was published three times, and there are some pretty significant changes in each – especially in that final paragraph. So it’s very interesting, and he does a great job of showing how the story evolved. It’s obviously her right as the author to tinker with the story, but it really kind of makes me feel uneasy. It makes it seem like you never quite know if you’re reading the proper version. I read the story in her Dear Life collection, which is the final (we think) version. And I really liked the ending. I think as you look at the changes that Munro improved the story with each iteration – which is a neat thing to note.

Anyway, that’s not the magic trick we’re talking about today.

The story does an amazing job of moving very quickly across a ton of ground. In order to make the point the story wants to make, we have to travel across three decades’ time in 20 pages. This is something that Munro does often, and really I can’t think of an author who does a better job of this, cramming huge amounts of time into very short spaces of story.

It’s almost exhilarating. You get a momentum of plot and backstory, and it’s just hitting you all very quickly. It’s thrilling. Things happen, and before you can even sit back and dwell on the ramifications, we get a whole new piece of information about a character or we realize very quickly that we’ve skipped ahead 10 years.

And she does this without any worry that it’s going to confuse the reader or put the reader off. In fact, I would argue that she embraces it. She’s not only making the story move quickly out of necessity, she turns it into one of the story’s greatest strengths.

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

The selection:

Howard was somewhat dismayed by the change in her life. He came more seldom now, but was able to stay longer. He was living in Toronto, though working for the same firm. His children were teen-agers or else in college. The girls were doing very well, the boys not quite so well as he might have wished, but that was the way of boys. His wife was working full time and sometimes more than full time in the office of a provincial politician. Her pay was next to nothing, but she was happy. Happier than he’d ever known her.

The past spring he had taken her to Spain, as a birthday surprise. Corrie hadn’t heard from him for some time then. It would have been lacking in taste for him to write to her from the birthday-present holiday. He would never do a thing like that, and she would not have liked him to do it, either.

“You’d think my place were a shrine, the way you carry on,” Corrie said after he got back, and he said, “Exactly right.” He loved everything about the big rooms now, with their ornate ceilings and dark, gloomy panelling. There was a grand absurdity to them. But he was able to see that it was different for her, that she needed to get out once in a while. They began to take little trips, then somewhat longer trips, staying overnight in motels—though never more than one night—and eating at moderately fancy restaurants.


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