by Alice Munro
from the October 11, 2010 issue of The New Yorker

I actually finished this story early last week, but I’ve been unsure how to write up about it. For one thing, it is a story where the less known before reading it the better. For another, though it is short and quick, it spans several years and several events, so the temptation is to recount the whole story in order to really say what it is about, which would be wrong. For another thing, I can’t do it justice. It is a great story, perhaps my favorite of the year, and I’m tempted to simply say, go read it. I’ll say a bit more, though.

When the story begins, we are sitting around a dinner table. A wealthy man and his daughter are entertaining an architect who has come to restore a tower in the Anglican church. The wealthy man is not Anglican — his church is the Methodist — but you can’t expect the Anglicans to take care of something like that.

The daughter’s name is Corrie. She’s 26, and it is obvious her father expects her to grow into a spinster. He doesn’t like that idea, and he looks at everyone as a potential mate, including the architect.

His name was Howard Ritchie, and he was only a few years older than she was, but already equipped with a wife and a young family, as her father had immediately found out.

I love the word “equipped” there; it perfectly expresses the father’s idea of marriage. Howard sees this tension as he meets with the man and his daughter, and his interest is piqued in Corrie, who appears to be somewhat flippant: “Spoiled rich miss. Unmannerly.” When Corrie takes Howard out to see the grounds, he sees another thing he expected: she is lame in one leg. As they visit, he learns she is planning a trip to Egypt. His basic impression as he leaves that night is this:

Some creepy fortune hunter was bound to snap her up, some Egyptian or whatever. She seemed both bold and childish. At first, a man might be intrigued by her, but then her forwardness, her self-satisfaction, if that was what it was, would become tiresome. Of course, there was money, and to some men that never became tiresome.

They end up corresponding slightly while she is in Egypt. Very soon (to the reader — this story clips along), they are having an affair, and soon after that Corrie’s father dies. And that’s really just the beginning.

It is a tremendous story, written by a master. Munro seems to have gone through this and cut out every single paragraph, sentence, or word that was not pulling its weight in creating this world. Highly recommended that you read this one and then read it again. Since it is only available to subscribers, this is the perfect excuse to go subscribe to the magazine.

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By |2017-06-02T16:58:28-04:00October 4th, 2010|Categories: Alice Munro, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |8 Comments


  1. Trevor Berrett October 5, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    New fiction forum up.

  2. Adam October 5, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    This is the 55th time Alice Munro has appeared in the magazine. I’m not complaining (nor have I read them all). She’s fantastic. Fantastic in the same way as Updike (is she not sort of the female version of Updike?) which is to say amazing and… amazingly consistent. I’m always moved, but she never rocks my world the way that some other authors do. But this one is as good as any of hers that I’ve read, and that’s saying a lot.

  3. Joe October 5, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    The Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced any day now. Could this be Alice Munro’s year?

    In many ways, this is a typical Alice Munro story — a young woman in rural Canada has an epiphany. But as I read it, I noticed a few things that I hadn’t associated with Munro before. I’ve always felt that she has a fairly traditional style (as opposed to the more post-modern stuff we saw in some of the 20 Under 40 series). However, that’s not exactly true, at least not in this story, because she does some tricky stuff with tense (shifting rather dramatically from past to present for the last few paragraphs) and she compresses and expands the chronology of the story in unexpected ways.

    One thing that is constant is Munro’s eye for just the right detail and the right *amount* of detail. As Corrie is on the verge of receiving the news that will change her perception of the world, we learn that she is in the library with “her finger in ‘The Great Gatsby’.”

    I liked this story a lot. It has stayed with me in the 24 hours since I read it and I’d like to read it again once I get the magazine in the mail. That will feel different from reading it online.

    By the way, does anyone know if the online fiction will always be behind the subscription wall from now on, or was it just for this week’s story from one of the big guns?

  4. Trevor Berrett October 5, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Argh! My print copy didn’t arrive today! I was looking forward to reading it tonight. Looks like I might have to go digital if I still want to. I skimmed the comments above and now will probably have to.

    You ask two questions, Joe. First, as for the pay wall. I think every year they put a handful of stories behind it. I’m surprised at how much content they put up for free, but i don’t thick this is a new trend.

    As for the Nobel Prize, it will be announced on Thursday. It doesn’t appear that it will be Alice Munro, though. Mark at the Literary Saloon (Complete Review in my sidebar) has an excellent track record following the odds, and it looks like it will be Ngugi wa Thiong’o, though there has been some interesting delvelopments this year.

  5. Trevor Berrett October 13, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Though I finished this story last week, I just got around to posting my praise above. What a treat.

    Now, since it is only available to subscribers, I say many should go get their subscription.

  6. Ken October 22, 2010 at 2:45 am

    Well, no disagreement here. This story is absolutely masterful. The thing I like about Munro is that she is both very consistent in terms of setting and characters and yet in every story there seems to be one element which is unique-here it is a mystery/suspense device and a twist (I’m not saying anything because the twist is really amazing although by even saying there is one I feel a bit guilty because part of what made it surprising is that Munro is not the sort of writer you expect to put a twist in her stories). As always she captures the melancholia of time passing and of the shifting Canadian landscape and also is great at giving her characters their unique little verbal/behavioral tics such as the joking postcards from Egypt sent between the characters.

  7. Tim October 26, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    This story was great. If you all are looking for an in-depth reading of the story, I came across this blog today: http://may-on-the-short-story.blogspot.com/search/label/Corrie and enjoyed the discussion.

  8. Trevor Berrett October 27, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Thanks for the link, Tim. I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but I’m going to!

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