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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Open Secrets by Alice Munro

We have been very happy.
I have often felt completely alone.
There is always in this life something to discover.
The days and the years have gone by in some sort of blur.
On the whole, I am satisfied.

The following is extracted from the story, The Albanian Virgin:

We invited Sylvia and Nelson upstairs for dinner, and Sylvia told us about the tiny town they both came from, in Northern Ontario. She said that Nelson had always been the smartest person in their class and in their school and possibly in the whole town. When she said this, Nelson looked at her with a perfectly flat and devastating expression, an expression that seemed to be waiting with infinite patience and the mildest curiosity for some explanation, and Sylvia laughed and said, “Just kidding, of course.”

When Sylvia was working late shifts at the hospital, I sometimes asked Nelson to share a meal with us in a more informal way. We got used to his silences and his indifferent table manners and to the fact that he did not eat rice or noodles, eggplant, olives, shrimp, peppers, or avocados, and no doubt a lot of other things, because those things had not been familiar foods in the town in Northern Ontario.

Nelson looked older than he was. He was short and sturdily built, sallow-skinned, unsmiling, with a suggestion of mature scorn and handy pugnaciousness laid over his features, so that it seemed he might be a hockey coach, or an intelligent, uneducated, fair-minded, and foul-mouthed foreman of a construction gang, rather than a shy, twenty-two-year-old student.

He was not shy in love. I found him resourceful and determined. The seduction was mutual, and it was a first affair for both of us. I had once heard somebody say, at a party, that one of the nice things about marriage was that you could have real affairs – an affair before marriage could always turn out to be nothing but courtship. I was disgusted by this speech, and frightened to think that life could be so bleak and trivial. But once my own affair with Nelson started, I was amazed all the time. There was no bleakness or triviality about it, only ruthlessness and clarity of desire, and sparkling deception.

There are eight stories in this book, covering marriage, gambling, disappearance and vandalism, and each of them is a gem. What Alice Munro does is give us extraordinarily delineated character studies of ordinary people, and then forces us to follow their stories with an overwhelming curiosity. The experience is kin to eavesdropping. We shouldn’t be hearing this stuff, we shouldn’t know these things about these people, but there’s no way we’re ever going to stop listening, no way we’re ever going to stop reading.

I eked out each story, making it last as long as possible. But no matter how you deal with it, eventually the book comes to an end and you know you’re going to have to go out and get another one, preferably by the same author.

Open Secets was published in 1994.

One Response to “Open Secrets by Alice Munro”

  1. Thomas Baker says:

    There was no bleakness or triviality about it, only ruthlessness and clarity of desire, and sparkling deception.

    How does one come up with lines like that ;)….