Friday, April 15, 2011

Nettles (by Alice Munro)

Three things.

(1) Notice Munro's nature writing:

The soil was soft, not quite gummy. Even the most frail-stemmed, delicate-looking plants had grown up almost as high as, or higher than, our heads. When we stopped and looked up through them we could see trees at a little distance tossing around like bouquets. And something coming, from the direction of the midnight clouds. It was the real rain, coming at us behind this splatter we were getting, but it appeared to be so much more than rain. It was as if a large portion of the sky had detached itself and was bearing down, bustling and resolute, taking a not quite recognizable but animate shape. Curtains of rain--not veils but really thick and wildly slapping curtains--were driven ahead of it. We could see them distinctly, when all we were feeling, still, were these light, lazy drops.....

Treetops tossed around like bouquets, rain like a part of the sky that has detached itself and is flapping wildly mid-air.....


(2) Notice what Munro has to say about conversation:

"Last night we actually went to the movies and Mike stayed with the kids. An old movie. 'Bridge over the River Kwai.'"

"'On,'" Johnston said. "'On the River Kwai.'"

Mike said, "I'd seen it anyway. Years ago."

"It was pretty good," said Sunny. "Except I didn't agree with the ending. I thought the ending was wrong. You know when Alec Guinness sees the wire in the water, in the morning, and he realizes somebody's going to blow up the bridge? And he goes berserk and then it gets so complicated and everybody has to get killed and everything? Well, I think he just should have seen the wire and known what was going to happen and stayed on the bridge and got blown up with it. I think that's what his character would have done and it would have been more dramatically effective."

"No it wouldn't," Johnston said, in the tone of somebody who had been through this argument before. "Where's the suspense?"

"I agree with Sunny," I said. "I remember thinking the ending was too complicated."

"Mike?" said Johnston.

"I thought it was pretty good," Mike said. "Pretty good the way it was."

"Guys against the women," Johnston said. "Guys win."

So much going on here!

Notice that, of course, Mike has NOT explicitly sided with Johnston.....He has said something rather wishy-washy. (And what is Johnston's problem? So weak! Imagine being married to him!)

Notice, also, the priceless moment of correction----ON the River Kwai, not OVER. Here is a man who realizes he has married someone smarter than he is, and he will take any advantage he can get.

Finally, notice Sunny's desperate attempt to have a conversation about storytelling--a conversation about thinking......and her realization that she will not get what she wants. She is trying to show her friend something about her marriage (though she herself may not actually realize what she's doing). She is deliberately flirting with disaster.

(3) Look at what Munro pins down w/r/t the lives of children:

...But there were other things, such as the stones on either side of the barn gangway, that had just as much to say to me, though nothing memorable had ever occurred there. On one side there was a big smooth whitish stone that bulged out and dominated all the others, and so that side had to me an expansive and public air, and I would always choose to climb that way rather than on the other side, where the stones were darker and clung together in a more mean-spirited way...

Do you remember that feeling from childhood? The way you could invest a rock with personality traits? The way in which a rock could be "mean-spirited"? (There is a very solemn children's book by Baylor--all about carefully and thoughtfully selecting a pet rock.)

This is a story about the gap between kids and adults, men and women.

It's about your attempt to bridge that gap, and the way in which you will inevitably fall so, so short.

It's about the ways in which we're bound up in ourselves.....the ways in which we fail to predict events correctly.....the ways in which nature, and the mystery of inner lives, will constantly foil our attempts to be in control.

It's appropriate that Munro ends her story with a description of nettles.

Like fate, like life, nettles hide their thorns until those thorns are embedded in your skin.....until you're aching and blotchy and begging for relief.

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