“The Eye” is the eleventh story in Alice Munro’s short story collection Dear Life. For an overview of the book and links to my reviews of its other stories, please click here.
With “The Eye” we enter into the last four stories in Dear Life, which Munro sets off in a separate section entitled “Finale.” These four pieces, she says, “are not quite stories”; rather, they are “autobiographical in feeling, thought not, sometimes, entirely so in fact.” As someone who has always believed that most of Munro’s stories are at least partly based on her own life, I was very anxious to read what she says are “the first and last — and the closest — things I have to say about my own life.”
When “The Eye” begins, our narrator, the young Alice Munro, is five years old, and her life is suddenly changed by the arrival of a baby brother. Soon after, another one arrives.
The arrival of more children changes her relationship with her mother, who tries to convince the young girl that she has always wanted little brothers. Alice is not sure, but she’s always trusted her mother. Up to that point, “the whole house was full of my mother, of her footsteps her voice her powdery yet ominous smell that inhabited all the rooms even when she wasn’t in them.”
Munro, the older woman thinking back on this episode, steps back here. Why did she say “ominous”?
After all, nothing in this story suggests that Munro’s mother was overbearing or frightening. Nevertheless, even so young, Munro was already beginning to appreciate “how largely my mother’s notions about me might differ from my own.”
This lengthens a distance already created when the two brothers arrived and leaves the young Alice open when a young woman named Sadie comes to work for them.
“The Eye” isn’t quite (on first glance, that is) as tight a story as is typical in Munro’s fiction. However, Munro still spends time developing a palpable texture as we get to know Sadie, a young woman who wants desperately to be independent and doesn’t want to be “caught” by any of the young men.
Late in the story, things shift slightly. An event allows — even demands — Alice’s imagination to interject itself into reality, and a “door is opened” (a phrase repeated three times in close succession). In this small vignette we get a glimpse at one moment when Alice Munro the writer begins to develop.
I didn’t find this to be a particularly strong work — certainly not in relation to Munro’s other pieces — but I enjoyed it nonetheless and admired it for its looseness. It was like sitting on the porch and letting Munro go where she wanted. Obviously that’s time well spent.