|my slightly creepy cover...|
Markham, ON: Penguin, 1990, c1971.
I chose to read this book for a number of reasons: it was published the year I was born & fits in with my Century of Books,
it's the selection for my local One Book One Community effort happening in 2014, and I'd never read it before. Actually, I haven't really read any Alice Munro before, apart from a single story here or there.
I'm going to disappoint a lot of people when I say that I didn't like this book. It just wasn't for me. Munro is a fine writer -- obviously, and as the Nobel Committee agreed this year. She has a fearless, sharp eye, one which gets under the social masks and reveals the inner lives of her characters. Even the bits that aren't always pleasant. And her writing seems effortless; it carries you along in the narrative, simply constructed in a way that makes you realize how good she is. I have no complaint about her wonderful technique.
However. This book was unsettling for me. I read the whole thing over the course of a week, examining the progression of Del Jordan's life in small town Jubilee. Del is our main character, and narrator, and perhaps my feelings about this book are partly because I didn't like Del. As she tells us about her community, she highlights various people -- but I couldn't get a grasp on her own family, she slides over the externals and I never really get a sense of their full existence. Her mother, in particular, was very interesting, but we never get a deep enough look at her. And perhaps that's intentional -- we never see our parents as real people when we're young, and Del is much more concerned about her own experience. I also get the sense, though, that Del is a bit sneaky, a bit self-indulgent. She does things that I got very frustrated reading about.
For example, in the last part of the book, she is about to write her exams in hopes of getting a scholarship to escape Jubilee and make something of herself. But instead she starts a relationship with a local boy, spending her time making out instead of studying, and ends up utterly distracted from her exam -- and no scholarship. This despite the fact that she knows, and admits she knows, that she was never going to settle down with this boyfriend. I suppose that frustrated me, because in a town like Jubilee, with its suffocating norms, with the chance to escape by using your brains -- I can't understand how Del could have let anything get in the way of that.
You can see that Munro's writing got to me, in the sense that I was engaged in the story of Jubilee. However, I found this, overall, to be a dark, depressing read. I found that there was too much intimate detail, that Munro got too deep into personal matters that I didn't really want to read about. The book is a collection of linked stories, and especially in the title story, I was creeped out by the subject matter and probably would have given up on the book if I hadn't been determined to finish it for the reasons I mentioned above. I am not a fan of "Southern Ontario Gothic" and this is a fine example of something that I just don't have any affinity with.
I am glad, though, that I've finally read this Canadian classic, and just wish that I could have enjoyed it more.