Happy Monday and Happy New Year, everyone! (2012...2012...2012--I have to practice typing that.) I've spent much of the last week trying to get my dog used to his new home. He gets a 45 minute walk/run every morning, which is really getting me into shape!
I've also been reading some Alice Munro stories--and I'm finally figuring out some of her techniques!
One thing Munro does often is leave the reader disoriented for several paragraphs here and there throughout the story. She often jumps back and forth in time and leaves out information so that we don't know exactly what happened. It can be very unclear.
To give you an example, here are some descriptions of different sections of her beautiful short story "Floating Bridge" from her collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Slight spoiler alert.
The story begins by giving the reader a brief description of a marriage relationship using the pronouns "she" and "he." We don't get the main character's name until the third paragraph.
In the second section, we are with the main character in an oncologist's office, where the doctor says something cryptic and doesn't let us know if the diagnosis is good or bad.
In the third section, we follow the main character out of "the air-conditioned building," where she's picked up by her husband, who is talking about some young woman. We don't really get a sense of who this girl is until the fifth paragraph of that section.
End spoiler alert.
Philosophically, I would have assumed that I would be annoyed by this technique. I usually don't like it when the author leaves these things--especially the oncologist's diagnosis--vague. It feels too manipulative to me.
But somehow I like it when Munro does it. I actually take delight in using what little clues she provides to make a best guess at what's happening. And, as I reach the end of her stories, I like reflecting on how the different pieces come together.
I think, and of course this is just a guess, that the reason Munro does it is to pull the reader deeper into the story. To understand any of it, one has to be hyper-aware of all the details and constantly work to piece them all together. We become detectives thrown into new situations again and again and again.
At the same time, there's a certain casualness to it. The non-linear timeline makes her stories feel whimsical. Munro--for me--hits that perfect tone of being a brilliant writer without having a big ego.
P.S. Thank you to everyone who entered our Variations on a Theme contest! I finished my own story on Dec. 31 in the afternoon, so now I'm ready to read all the entries. I'm excited!
P.P.S. The fantastic Donna Hole interviewed me here today, and Fictionaut interviewed me here. And, hey, get my book!