The story is set in a small Canadian town and features Corrie, the polio-stricken daughter of a wealthy man. Her life is empty and there is nothing and no one in the town for her, despite her wealthy. But her father hires an architect to restore the steeple of the Anglican church—he’s Methodist, himself, but the church is important to the town—and introduces this architect to his daughter. (A nice bit of foreshadowing: as Corrie is preparing for a trip to Egypt, Howard thinks, “Some creepy fortune hunter was bound to snap her up.”) He’s married with children, but that doesn’t stop them from beginning an affair when she returns.
When Corrie’s father has a stroke, she hires young Sadie Wolfe to help out around the house. Howard visits often. When the father dies, Sadie moves on. But then Howard, attending a dinner party with his wife, runs into her. In a letter, which Howard destroys immediately, Sadie threatens to expose them, and so begins the blackmail, which wealthy Corrie happily pays, in cash, in an envelope that Howard delivers to Sadie.
The affair continues. Years go by. Accidentally, Corrie learns of Sadie’s death on the day of her funeral in the small town. She wonders how she can get the news to Howard. And then the truth dawns on her.
Aside from the plot, which has a nice twist to it, there’s a lot in this story, including the discussion of churches in the town. It is the collapsing Anglican steeple that first brings Howard and Corrie together. The father is a Methodist. Sadie’s funeral is in the new “Church of the Lord’s Anointed” and leads Corrie to recall that her father had said that only “freak religions” flourished in the town. At the reception following the funeral, Corrie sees many women of the town and notes that the United church and the Presbyterian church were barely hanging on and the Anglican church—again, the church that Howard was hired to save—and closed long ago.
The saga of Corrie’s father’s shoe factory is another element. He sold the factory, but despite assurances that they’d keep it open the buyers moved production elsewhere. Corrie tries to turn the place into a museum of shoe-making, but that is short lived. And, ironically, Corrie herself has a built-up shoe because of her lameness.
And then politics. Howard is rather conservative, but Corrie’s father and Howard’s wife are both left-wing supporters of the Saskatchewan premier.
A good story, with plenty to enjoy.
October 11, 2010: “Corrie” by Alice Munro