‘Train’ by Alice Munro

Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel prize in literature

Train by Alice Munro, 2012

The magic trick:

Tracing a man’s lifetime in one (longish) short story

Alice Munro is that rare author who eschews the novel in favor of the short story. Personally, I think that’s pretty cool, but if you find yourself dying for an Alice Munro novel, reading “Train” isn’t a bad substitute. Munro covers a novel’s worth of ground here. The story’s central character emotionally checks out and physically leaves a situation when it gets difficult, rather than stay and address his feelings, weaknesses or needs. The story’s structure follows a similar path then, ditching one plot and picking up another without warning. The end result is the picture of a sad, fractured life and a trail of unhappiness left behind. And that’s quite a trick on Munro’s part.

The selection:

Tears came into her eyes and she turned pettishly away.

“I want to go home.”

“Soon you will.”

“You could help me find my clothes.”

“No I couldn’t.”

“If you won’t I’ll do it myself. I’ll get myself to the train station myself.”

“There isn’t any passenger train that goes up our way anymore.”

Abruptly then, she seemed to give up on her plans for escape.

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‘Train’ by Joy Williams

Williams, Joy 1971

Train by Joy Williams, 1972

The magic trick:

The relationship between Danica and Janes father, Mr. Muirhead

While it is not necessarily central to the story’s main themes, I very much enjoyed the relationship between Danica and Jane’s father, Mr. Muirhead. They share a quiet sympathy, in spite of their only-casual connection. Over what do they bond? Their mutual contempt for Jane. This is especially interesting to me, as I am peculiarly fascinated by parents whose resentment for their significant other seeps into their relationship with their child. I’m not sure why – it has just always interested me. It’s such a sad, selfish thing that adults do, and this is a classic case. And that’s quite a trick on Williams’s part.

The selection:

“Do you think Jane and I will be friends forever?” Dan asked.

Mr. Muirhead looked surprised. “Definitely not. Jane will not have friends. Jane will have husbands, enemies and lawyers.” He cracked ice noisily with his white teeth. “I’m glad you enjoyed your summer, Dan, and I hope you’re enjoying your childhood. When you grow up, a shadow falls. Everything’s sunny and then this big Goddamn wing or something passes overhead.”

“Oh,” Dan said.