Monday, November 21, 2011

The New Yorker: "Leaving Maverly" by Alice Munro

November 28, 2011: “Leaving Maverly” by Alice Munro

Maybe I’m just not in the mood for a Munro story, but this one leaves me cold. Like many of her stories, this one covers several years—proving that short stories don’t have to focus on a short period of time. The problem with trying to fit a long period of time into a short story, however, is that it is difficult to achieve much depth. The reader is always skimming the surface, it seems to me, and unless the occasional dips into the water are sustained, the author risks losing the reader altogether. Which, for me, happened here.

The story is about Ray, the night policeman in a small town, and a young girl, Leah. The girl is from a very strict household—one in which the wife and children aren’t allowed to leave the house—but she is given permission by her father to take a job as ticket taker in a theater (as long as she doesn’t watch or even listen to the films). But she needs an escort to walk her home on Saturday nights, and Ray performs that duty. Ray, meanwhile, is married to Isabel, who left her husband to marry him. But she develops pericarditis and is often too weak to do anything. When Leah disappears, Ray joins the search, but the girl isn’t found because, in fact, she ran off and married the minister’s son.

And so on—Isabel gets sicker, Leah’s marriage goes bad, and eventually, years later, they meet again in the hospital in another city. And maybe they’ll get together, and maybe they won’t, but I don’t think I care. The story is so much on the surface that I don’t engage with any of the characters.

I’d be interested to know how others reacted to this one. I’m a fan of Munro, but not this story.


Sybil said...

The new Munro stories I've read this year have left me wanting. It almost feels like someone else trying to write a Munro story. I can see what's coming, which I never could with Munro before. At least this wasn't about girls/coming of age. The stories feel tired, like she's in safe territory these days. That said, a mediocre Munro story is better than most of what I read. But I agree, nothing special about this one.

Anonymous said...

I had this NY issue sitting on my desk and just got around to reading the story this morning. I actually enjoyed the first part and then somewhere in the middle she lost me and the end was a little too predictable.

aamidor said...

"Leaving Maverly" should not have been published. It's not only predictable, but Munro clearly is racing toward the ending from about the halfway point, an admission that she knew the story was going nowhere. I'm commenting now only because it won an O. Henry award! This is the best argument I can think of for blind submissions by all magazines that publish literary fiction. This story might not have even received an "encouraging rejection" from most literary magazines, I believe. And I generally respect Munro's clean writing, her inate humility and ominpresent wisdom at the same time.