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.