Sunday, December 29, 2019

"Floating Bridge" (2000)

Having slept on it, I've decided to take Alice Munro's story as a dream sequence. There's even enough information to support specific points of context, though I understand I'm making leaps here. The dreamer is Jinny, the main character (and probably the narrator), but the dream is from a later time, after surviving the cancer that is described here. She survived it but her life, however grateful she may be, is inevitably fractured. In the dream (in my version), she is in a scene following a visit to the doctor where he told her her condition has begun to go into remission. Her husband Neal is making it impossible to talk to him. He is a strange and unsettling presence in this story—her husband, but as disconnected from her as it is possible to be. He drives her back from the doctor's appointment but won't interact with her directly, only talks at her and uses others as distraction. Especially in light of their age difference—she is 42 and he is 58—he behaves bizarrely. He has hired an entirely inappropriate home care assistant, Helen, a teen who is in the legal system. Everything he does in this story is more to accommodate Helen than Jinny. There's even a sense Neal is flirting with Helen. The detours they take on the way home from the doctor are weird and time-consuming. All the places this remarkable story goes are charged with shocking behavior, decisions, words said aloud. This floating bridge—how is it anything but a dream product? What's most vivid about the story is Jinny's will to live. She is right at death in every way, still in chemotherapy, still in the shock of the diagnosis. She knows it is close and seems to be considering resigning herself to it, but she resists too. The appearance of the adolescent Ricky brings a sexual charge, which jolts Jinny from merely wanting to resist death to finding the strength and reason to do it. Or that's how I read it. There's a crackling discomfort to this story that gnaws away at the reader, especially as we start to piece together the action and Jinny herself. People persist in not behaving naturally but only slightly out of key. Something always feels wrong though that might be a matter of witnessing the shabby way Jinny is treated, or dreams she was treated. It also seems a little too shabby. The story ends on a high note: "What she felt was a lighthearted compassion, almost like laughter. A swish of tender hilarity, getting the better of all her sores and hollows, for the time given." In my version that's her waking up.

In case it's not at the library.

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