Thursday, October 14, 2010

The New Yorker: "Corrie" by Alice Munro

Finally, a story worth reading. Unfortunately, it’s not available to non-subscribers. I wonder if the magazine planned this? Let’s let everyone read the light-weight junk, but when we publish an Alice Munro story, something with some real meat, we’ll make them pay. Wouldn’t surprise me.

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

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think it's no surprise either that they put Alice Munro's work behind a pay wall.

It The New Yorker has a style of story it publishes these days, it would be more of the 20 under 40 and less of Alice Munro, unfortunately.

I presume you read many lit. mags... do you think the quality of Alice Munro's stories is generally unavailable to TNY or are other journals publishing the best stories these days?

Paul

Clifford Garstang said...

I think The New Yorker is struggling for readers and is attempting to tap a younger audience, hence the 20 under 40 hoopla.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, thanks. I'm young (for the moment!) and much rather Alice Munro over the prevailing tone of irreverence in many of the younger stories.

I must be out of step with my fellow young people:-)

Paul

CMSMW said...

I'm under 40 and I'd rather read Alice Munro than just about any of the 20-under-40 folks, excepting C.E. Morgan. I was as disappointed as you were, Cliff, in that endeavor.

Not to minimize their ordeal, but reading Munro after all that just fit right in for me with those Chilean miners finally getting that flash of sunlight and fresh air.

Mark Richardson said...

I like Munro's story as well. But, I thought you didn't like stories about cancer, or in this case, affairs. Good to see you made an exception!

Clifford Garstang said...

It's not that I don't like cancer or infidelity stories; it's just that if there isn't something else going on, such stories are usually trite or way too familiar. If there's something else going on, as there is here, such subjects can work. After all, in life there is cancer, and there are affairs.

Paul said...

Cliff,

Although you say you liked the story, there's nothing in your review to suggest why. Yes, there are interesting elements, but these seem disparate and chaotic with no underlying theme.

That's why I didn't like it. The ideas seemed unconnected, the death of Sadie seemed contrived and I didn't see the point of the various themes.

Paul Epstein

Tim said...

One of the reason's this story worked so well for me is the mood that Munro establishes. I found myself thinking of Hitchcock, and the twist at the end is so heartbreaking and sinister.