Open Secrets

Dear CF,

Did you catch Michael Krasny’s interview of Lorrie Moore on NPR? He’s a fool, and she suffered him. Having seen Moore eviscerate fans, I was unprepared for this warmer, more pliant Moore whom Krasny repeatedly and unctuously described as having a gorgeous voice. When she said her latest novel was about how we got to where we are, he said “Women?” She said, “No. Iraq.”

As we gear up to read Munro and Moore’s latest, I thought I’d post some old observations on Open Secrets, Alice Munro’s 1994 collection of stories.  (Warning: unless you’ve read it recently, none of the following will make sense.)

Munro creates all these women whose angularity and silence never ceases to amaze, and yet they are never quite as ugly as they might be. Not as ugly as Lorrie Moore lets hers be.  And it’s not nostalgia that protects them—I almost used that word, and it’s quite, quite wrong. It’s about surface and depth. The woman often stays shiny and hard and impenetrable, and there are really very few bodies. And yet Munro’s rendering of the female experience of male sexuality might be the best I’ve seen.

So much of the collection is about the (semi-desperate and impossible) miracle of right timing and how, even in meal-making, it can only exist when there’s something unspoken about it. She gets, too, at the assumption of shared assumptions. In Munro married life is always and at best (or worst) that, and never a true sharing.

The obvious mysteries in Open Secrets: who actually killed George Herron’s brother and Annie’s husband? What exactly was the “reality” of the relationship between Liza and Ladner—did she inflate those moments of contact and shame, or were they real? And why is it that the most effective moment of transgression in that story is when Ladner jumps into the pool and mimics Bea? Incredible how, like lightning, that cruelty and all-or-nothing risk of discovery stands out. Did it all really happen to Charlotte? A bigger mystery, perhaps: why would she go see Charlotte in the hospital three days running? The closeness of the friendship is never explained.

What she says about girls wanting to carry the joke just a step further, disappearing for a little longer: so true. I’m puzzled and not quite satisfied with the character of Mary Johnstone, though. Or Maureen.

Dorrie is extraordinary. So is the other—not Millicent. The other M who dresses in blue. Dresses alone have so much power in Munro’s work.

The familiar characters that appear over and over:

  1. the near-paralytic old man whose condition encapsulates some secret sexual power that gets some of its force from the bodily fluids and smells of senility. Both the old man with the young man who is his lover in the Jacaranda hotel and the lawyer who’d had a stroke fit this.
  2. The adulterous couple whose erotic relationship develops around the young ambitious slightly silly man’s staging of a play. The presence of a Mediterranean type woman—sometimes the protagonist and sometimes her competition.
  3. The woman who has been left by her husband.
  4. The woman who left her husband.
  5. The abandoned wife who remains close friends with her mother-in-law.
  6. The girl who “parks” with one bright winsome boy who respects her and
  7. her attraction to his less reputable friend/brother.

Next I will read “Home.” Your thoughts?




2 Responses to Open Secrets

  1. Pingback: Open Secrets, Indeed « Millicent and Carla Fran

  2. cj kuefler says:

    I enjoyed reading your comments on Alice Munro. Another author who writes about women and their place in the world is Anne Tyler. She has written many novels with similar female characters in bad marriages with awkward children, and she deals with them with an incredible sense of humor. Being a fellow fan of Munro, I thought you might enjoy Anne Tyler as well.
    I was excited to find this blog today, which I initially came to because of the current movie with Kristen Wiig who I am a fan of. She makes me laugh out loud. I got more than I bargained for and am very pleased.

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