Monday, 6 February 2023

Open Secrets - Alice Munro


My annual literature date with the old laughing lady - and the book that I had to read back in December last year was Open Secrets. At the time of my completing the reading I gave this 4 stars. Now writing my little notes, revisiting these stories again, albeit at a glance, I am convinced that this clearly a five star read - and my usual reluctance with giving away starts ( which my book worm friends always speak of - and I never own up to), has had the better of me.

So here are blurbs about the short stories found here. While these aren't quite spoilers, I must grant they come close to them, in my attempt to analyse the deeper meaning within each of the story, and for the curious, these should serve as an interest creator to find out more on what exactly is going on here.

Carried Away: Its a brilliant story focusing on the life of the protagonist, Louisa, and the three men we meet during the course of the story. Communication, or the lack of it is a main factor in the story, as the pivotal incidents take place unplanned - her experience with Jim Frarey as she laments the death of Agnew, whose epistle based long distanced love gave meaning to her life for sometime, as well as her marriage with Doud. It was interesting to note, that when Louisa in her old age imagines meet one of her old loves, it is the long dead Agnew that she imagines, and not one of the two men who had an actual physical presence in her life.

A Real Life: What's the real life that Millicent has in mind ? Is it the same as what Alice subtly seem to suggest in her unique way ? Millicent likes to convince herself that her present sexless life, in which she likes to think her husband too has given up certain things, is near a real life as it were. But Dorrie in her near wild life and her frankness about it, wins the favour of Wilkie - possibly the first man, and an outsider she'd seen in sometime. If we're to believe the communication between Dorrie and Millicent, upon the former's migration, Dorrie has had a near 'real life' in her new home too. Or, Dorrie too has started to believe that she too now has a 'real life', and she wants to convince her old friend that the marriage that she pushed Dollie into was the best thing ever. Maybe Dollie believes it - or wants to believe it.

The Albanian Virgin: We meet the Albanian virgin, in a story as it were from Charlotte, who frequents the book shop of our protagonist, Claire. This virgin is not a virgin in the sense that we have to believe, or understand. Claire herself is trying to find a life of her own after a separation from her husband. Beneath the story of the Albanian virgin, and that of Claire, we see two sides of wants from two women. While Charlotte fantasizes running away from her Albanian husband, as how "the Albanian virgin" finally escapes the clan that she was kept it, Claire at times longs for Donald, her estranged husband, or her lover Nelson. Claire imagines life with Nelson, where she would stick with her, amidst tensions and challenges in a long term relationship. The story overall suggests the insatiable nature of man, and woman, and how urges in sensuality makes both sexes to live a life which in the final analysis is aim towards long term stability, but across disruptions that desire bring in like pit falls.

Open Secrets: Based loosely on a disappearance of a girl, during an the annual hike, led by a woman who had overcome physical challenges in her youth, the story hints on multiple occasions on the sexual tendencies of the  residents of the town. The lawyer who's had a late rejuvenation, gives his wife, our main protagonist, gives her something she's being denied. In contrast we see Heather, running away towards what she wants. We are left on the lurch of what happened to her. But the open secrets are the sexual tendencies of women, and men, which the town keeps mum about, but which affects their lives. Johnson, who leads the hike, is portrayed as asexual, and somewhat of a respected figure, but the inference is that she has to be content with the collective respect, genuine or otherwise, of the town's folks.

The Jack Randa Hotel: is a rather entertaining story, of how a woman crosses thousands of miles to win back the man she's lost to a much younger artiste woman, and takes a form of  fiction through many epistles. Just as Will is about to come back to Gail, she exposes the female nature of him of playing hard to get, suggesting that now he comes back after her. 

A Wilderness Station: Another story based on epistles, it takes us back to the 1850s, and how there is always more to matters than what is mentioned in the open. Simon Herron, had controlled the life of others with him, his wife ( who he gets from an orphanage), and his brother, in a time when the wilds of Canada were still being opened up by those who pioneered to setup life there. The epistles which open these conditions and situations to us are brought to us in 1959, when life, and freedom of choice has greatly improved. In a sense, we are shown how conditions of life, as well as freedom of choice has changed, for the better in just over a hundred years.

Spaceships Have Landed: The spaceships, here, are just incidental, but the main conflict is the choices of a woman, what is she forced into, and how she manages. We have Rhea, who is shown as from a somewhat common background, finds that she'd rather have the more adventurous Wayne than the asexual scion of a large business in the town. Eunice who's the other main character disappears for a night, but then portrayed as saintly, and ends up with the now dumped, but saintly Doud. Rhea and her husband have a rather promiscuous marriage, but is suggested as having lived a rather full life. Billy Doud and Wayne doesn't fall out, and are shown as best friends even when they meet at a later stage in life. Open secrets, then is more of a theme for the complete collection, besides being a short story here.

Vandals: Here we find a brother, sister pair having their revenge of sorts, against a man who had molested them in their childhood. While the now recently deceased molester, was living with a member of the Doud family ( the Doud family we find in many a story in this collection ), she is the ridicule of her husband, a situation which she tolerates patiently. Ladner, is portrayed as the hermit, who will not tolerate to have his way with anyone who walks into his "hermitage" - maybe a self realization of the damage he knows is capable of. Bea Doud, who we find is writing a letter to now grown up brother-sister pair, never sends it - a suggestion that she's aware of what happened back then, and what happened to Ladner's house recently -another open secret as it were.

Genre: Short Stories
Year Published: 1994
Rating: *****

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