The New Yorker Reader: Winter Fiction Issue, Part 4

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12/23/2008 11:30 AM |

“Some Women,” by Alice Munro.

The first paragraph, as the narrator leads us into this story — in which she’s an adolescent observer in a quadrangle of sexual and familial power-plays — by remarking that “I am amazed sometimes to think how old I am”, frames what we’re seeing as her education, or part of it, in the ways of adults. So we’re telescoped into this story in the first graf, and telescoped back out in the last graf — which is only one sentence. It’s one of Alice’s flash-fast-forwards I once referred to as her “Narayama endings”, in which a wealth of detail is revealed as an “enclosed piece of the undifferentiated whole”, the years collapsing with dazzling, brutal swiftness. (Not unlike in, actually, Synecdoche, New York.)

We spend so much time on the clarity of Alice’s sentences, on her sense of the psychology of place, on her keen understanding of the lives of girls and women, that we forget how preoccupied she is with the passage of time. In a personal sense — between this story, “Free Radicals” and a shuddering “old like me” in “Child’s Play” — and also in regards to her fiction, which seems to track back and forth between present and future, trying to scour the past for clues to the present.

One of the advantages of fiction, of course, is the freedom it gives the author to magnify events within a life (pieces of the whole), or to go nonlinear and show how this thing led to that thing. Alice Munro is a “realist” writer, whatever that means, but a large part of her project is the manipulation of linear time for the sake of insight.

Also on the “Contributors” page it says she has a book coming out next year — conveniently I’ve been reviewing said book for like two years already, so that should be fun.