by Alice Munro
from Dear Life
“Voices” is the thirteenth 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.
Though each of the final four stories in Dear Life (if not each of the stories in this collection) are reflective pieces, to me “Voices” felt the most like the mind simply wandering in the past, allowed to follow one thought and then leave it for another. Though I’m used to Munro’s tightly structured short stories, this style is also enjoyable, if not quite as strong.
When “Voices” begins, it appears that it will deal primarily with the relationship between Alice and her mother. Her mother was never quite happy with her position in society and did her best to appear higher:
She said things like “readily” and “indeed so.” She sounded as if she had grown up in some strange family who always talked that way. And she hadn’t. They didn’t. Out on their farms, my aunts and uncles talked the way everybody else did. And they didn’t like my mother very much, either.
However, as the story progresses, we see it is also about the very beginning of Alice’s emergence from the innocence of childhood to the sexual world.
Here, at ten years old, she accompanies her mother to a community dance. There she sees a prostitute. She doesn’t know what a prostitute is yet, but she senses scandal (something she also probably doesn’t comprehend) from the way people, in particular her mother, respond to the prostitute’s presence. They must leave at once, but the way out is blocked by a crying young woman cry and the two young soldiers who are trying to comfort her, their attention tinged with lust that Alice senses and that remains with her:
Their hands blessed my own skinny thighs and their voices assured me that I, too, was worthy of love.
And while they still inhabited my not yet quite erotic fantasies they were gone. Some, many, gone for good.
For me, as much as I liked it, “Voices” was the weakest piece in this collection. That’s saying something about this collection, though, since “Voices” is still a complicated, troubling piece of work.