So in my expectation of a Munro story I was off by a couple of weeks. At least this story, by one of the modern masters, is a good one. It’s echo of Flannery O’Connor is interesting, in the way that Nita interacts with her unwanted visitor, and I suppose any author who is working with such a situation would be conscious of that echo. Here we have Nita, a woman whose cancer is in remission but who has also just suffered the loss of her husband who was considerably older. Because of her illness, she can’t even drown her sorrows with wine or vodka as her friends would wish. Instead, she’s living quietly and, so it seems, gathering strength. She isn’t suicidal, but her will to live isn’t exactly glowing. She receives a visit from a man and lets him in the house when he says he’s there to check the fuse box. This is a lame con, the reader knows, but Nita is vulnerable (in an invulnerable sort of way, since she knows no one can do to her any more than the cancer is doing already) and, maybe, happy for the company. But, of course, the reader was right to worry about this guy and the story then turns on the fantastic dialogue the two have. To say more might spoil the enjoyment of that scene, so let me just say that the reader falls in love with Nita for her brilliance and her pain. And then comes the end. What exactly did Nita do? Best story of the year so far, no question.
February 11 & 18, 2008: “Free Radicals” by Alice Munro