Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Runaway" (2003)

Read story by Alice Munro online.

Like most of us, I have a certain susceptibility to stories involving helpless adorable animals, but I still think it's fair to call this story by Alice Munro devastating. It certainly cast a pall on me for several days. At the same time, I don't think it's fair to call it manipulative. Alice Munro is generally that good, and this story is specifically that good. Clark and Carla are a couple in their 30s, living in the countryside of central Canada. They have a stable for boarding horses and also give riding lessons. A few days before the time of the story a terrible storm has ripped through, damaging property and enabling horses and other livestock to escape. It's been a bad summer, with much rain, which has depressed their business. At the same time, Carla has been developing a relationship with their neighbor, Mrs. Jamieson, who has hired her for housekeeping help. These three characters—their histories and their relations—are complex but in ways that have developed naturally. Clark and Carla have been struggling for years financially, and have different ways of handling that stress. Mrs. Jamieson is older and self-sufficient. She recently lost her husband and Carla was there to help with the nursing. In the immediate aftermath of that death, Mrs. Jamieson has developed something of an overheated regard for Carla. She wants to have tea with her and make her life better. But they are widely separated by age and especially by class. Mrs. Jamieson's feelings are misplaced, likely a passing result of grief. Meanwhile, a small lie Carla told Clark about Mr. Jamieson before his death has snowballed into an awkward situation. I don't want to give away too much about the story because it's the discoveries as much as anything that do the work. Everything that happens is a perfectly natural reflection of the characters as presented. All three are complicated, feel real, and remain unpredictable to the end. I never doubted anything about this story even though it surprised me again and again. There may be human villains in it but we know them well enough to understand their good sides too, if not always their motivations exactly, which are more like everyday human mysteries. Think about it. Who do you know—who do you really understand—who doesn't find ways to surprise and even shock you? This is a great story, and it leaves a mark.

Runaway by Alice Munro

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