Prue by Alice Munro, 1981
The magic trick:
Ballooning what could be called a character sketch into a full-blown lifetime in the reader’s imagination
Alice Munro stories are typically so all-encompassing, it’s easy to feel a bit let down by the apparent slightness presented in “Prue,” a four-page character sketch more than anything.
We should all be able to do mere “sketches” that turn out this rich, though.
The reader gets a rapid-fire summary of the relationship history between Prue and Gordon. It’s convoluted to the point of being absurd. But it provides enough of a foundation so that when we see one scene of them together in the present tense, we are able to interpret and imagine all kinds of meanings from both what is said and unsaid. In that way, the story balloons from character sketch on the page to a full-blown lifetime in the reader’s mind.
And that’s quite a trick on Munro’s part.
Her grownup children, the products of an early Vancouver Island marriage she calls a cosmic disaster, come to see her, and instead of wanting money, like other people’s children, they bring presents, try to do her accounts, arrange to have her house insulated. She is delighted with their presents, listens to their advice, and, like a flighty daughter, neglects to answer their letters.
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