Alice Munro, “Miles City, Montana,” and character in “Spare Rooms”

alice_munro

Alice Munro and character in “Spare Rooms”

Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for literature today. I can’t overstate how much I’ve relied on her voice, both in listening and writing. In 1985, she published a story called “Miles City, Montana.” The New Yorker pulls out the passage below, but I’m pulling it out here because it could so very easily be Marie, in later years, talking about her life before Rae in 1985 (or even her life with Rae in 1985):

I wished I could get my feelings about Andrew to come together into a serviceable and dependable feeling. I had even tried writing two lists, one of things I liked about him, one of things I disliked—in the cauldron of intimate life, things I loved and things I hated—as if I hoped by this to prove something, to come to a conclusion one way or the other. But I gave it up when I saw that all it proved was what I already knew—that I had violent contradictions. Sometimes the very sound of his footsteps seemed to me tyrannical, the set of his mouth smug and mean, his hard, straight body a barrier interposed—quite consciously, even dutifully, and with a nasty pleasure in its masculine authority—between me and whatever joy or lightness I could get in life. Then, with not much warning, he became my good friend and most essential companion. I felt the sweetness of his light bones and serious ideas, the vulnerability of his love, which I imagined to be purer and more straightforward than my own. I could be greatly moved by an inflexibility, a harsh propriety, that at other times I scorned. I would think how humble he was, really, taking on such a ready-made role of husband, father, breadwinner, and how I myself in comparison was really a secret monster of egotism. Not so secret, either—not from him.

At the bottom of our fights, we served up what we thought were the ugliest truths. “I know there is something basically selfish and basically untrustworthy about you,” Andrew once said. “I’ve always known it. I also know that that is why I fell in love with you.”

“Yes,” I said, feeling sorrowful but complacent.

“I know that I’d be better off without you.”

“Yes. You would.”

“You’d be happier without me.”

“Yes.”

And finally—finally—wracked and purged, we clasped hands and laughed, laughed at those two benighted people, ourselves. Their grudges, their grievances, their self-justification. We leapfrogged over them. We declared them liars. We would have wine with dinner, or decide to give a party.

I haven’t seen Andrew for years, don’t know if he is still thin, has gone completely gray, insists on lettuce, tells the truth, or is hearty and disappointed.

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