Sunday, November 24, 2019

"The Turkey Season" (1980)

It's hard to pinpoint what exactly makes this story by Alice Munro so affecting. It's a reminiscence by a grown woman remembering her first job when she was 14. The place is called Turkey Barn—the setting is the remote isolated village of Logan, Ontario, in the '40s. Much as it sounds, Turkey Barn raises, slaughters, and sells turkey meat. The unnamed narrator's job is "gutter," responsible for removing organs and inedibles from carcasses after the pluckers have removed the feathers. The story is set in December, the Turkey Barn's busiest time of year. The work is described in detail, and then all the people who work there. These people are mostly uneducated and lower-class, but they have interesting lives and are amazingly fully rounded for a short story—and there are so many of them, a crew of some six or eight. The narrator's fellow gutters, for example, are a pair of caustic middle-aged women who spend their time gossiping. "Marjorie and Lily talked about marriage," the narrator writes. "They did not have much good to say about it, in spite of their feeling that it was a state nobody should be allowed to stay out of." This feeling—more or less shared by all humanity—is the turning point of the story's plot, as one of the men working there is of marriageable age but single. In fact, he's almost certainly gay, from what we see. Even in 1980 no one talked about it directly much, certainly not in Logan in the ‘40s. The story seems disinclined to deal with it anyway, and in many ways that reticence is what makes the story so fascinating. In this way it expertly recreates the sensation of the world from a 14-year-old's vantage—sometimes treated as an adult with abundancies of personal disclosures, sometimes as a child, figuratively having doors shut in her face. From what we can make out, it's a remarkable situation. Herb, the eligible bachelor, one day shows up living with a much younger man, Brian, and a strange story why. Herb gets Brian a job at the Turkey Barn, but he is lazy and inept. He also seems to be one of those annoying people—again, the reticence expunges the exact details—who sexualizes everything in conversation ("that's what she said," etc.). Most of the people at the Turkey Barn loathe him, though the narrator is relatively OK with him. It sounds like she doesn't see the worst of his behavior, or understand why others find it offensive. It's just a very brief chapter in her life, essentially that one Christmas season, but it has stuck with her. And now it sticks with me.

In case it's not at the library.

No comments:

Post a Comment