The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, August 08, 2008

A Munrovian Moment

by Tricia Dower

It’s an evening out of an Alice Munro story – one from her West Coast Period. We’ve driven to Campbell River and taken the ferry to Quadra Island to meet up with friends Caspar and Lorena who’ve been sailing for six weeks. Lorena has had enough. I will drive her back to Victoria the next day. Colin and Caspar will sail the boat back home over the next week or so.

The plan that night is for us to get together at a vegetarian restaurant with a man I’ll call M. There will be a sixth person, as well, Caspar says. A woman who’s staying with M for the summer. Let's call her H.

Who would want to live where you have to share every part of outdoor space with hostile and marauding animals? (From “Chance,” in Runaway)

M’s house is at the end of a very long driveway clogged with shrubs that fill with berries in the spring. Lorena thinks bears eat them. The deer are a bigger problem we find out later, managing to thieve their way under the chicken wire and into the vegetable garden.

The house is a cabin, really, small and rough with a beaten-up wooden boat as big as a tug in the front yard and a long stretch of land reaching down to the water in the back. M and H greet Caspar and Lorena with wide-armed hugs. M is what my father used to call a ‘long drink of water,’ very tall and lean with wavy white hair as long as mine. H’s gray hair is pulled back from her tanned face. She has a ballerina’s body and heavily tattooed arms. Munro would have let us in right away on how she happens to be there but we can only speculate.

“Should we have a drink first and maybe some watermelon or is everyone ready to go off and eat?” M asks.

“I’m ready,” I say. “I’m very hungry.” But H is already slicing the watermelon. Colin gives me a sympathetic smile. If I go too long without a proper meal I get what he calls “owly.”

We leave eventually and drive a few minutes to the vegetarian restaurant. It’s closed. Lorena votes for the pub and we go there. It’s got patio dining and the menu has enough veggie options for those so inclined. But a singer/guitarist is performing and Caspar thinks it will be too noisy for us to converse. We try the Inn, next, where we’re told the wait for food will be at least an hour.

“You’ll be okay if you can get a snack, right?” Colin asks me.

“Right,” I say, and sense a dangerous shift. The evening has become about feeding me and Caspar feels terrible about not staying at the pub. It’s okay, I say, and really it is. M suggests we head back to his place where he’ll cook up some pasta and we all gratefully accept. A quick stop at the grocery store for bread, dessert and snacks (I get to choose those) and the liquor store for wine.

…the room is haphazardly furnished…Mostly with cushions, lying about on the floor, a couple of hassocks covered in leather, which has split…A couch covered by an authentic but ragged patchwork quilt, an ancient television set, and brick and plank bookshelves…Dishes and glasses and pots are piled everywhere. (“From “Chance”)

Back at M’s, we go into action, washing dishes that had been left in the sink, clearing the table and chairs of assorted litter. I set out the snacks. M boils water for fettuccine and chops onions to mix with jars of sauce he just happens to have. Caspar heads out to the garden to clip salad fixings and H makes garlic bread. Before long we’re seated at the table, joking about loaves and fishes. M has us join hands for some aging hippie bonding. It's like the old days when, as young people with other partners, we made do and dreamed of the day we'd have what we have now.

Over the next hour or two we eat and talk about art, politics, gender differences, M’s travels to distant lands, H’s former life as a performer, my book, of course. A gentle dance intended to tease out the bits and pieces of our histories we feel safe enough to share. Earnest and sometimes spirited conversation that given a few more hours and another bottle of wine might have waded into the secret waters Munro readers would be allowed to navigate. For those of us stuck being the characters, the best we can do is stumble out into the black night and stare at a sky so clotted with stars it feels like only the beginning of a million stories with infinite possibilities.

Above: Colin, aboard the good ship Kittiwake.

Right: On the short ferry ride from Buckley Bay to Denman Island, Juliet got out of her car and stood at the front of the boat, in the summer breeze. (From “Silence” in Runaway)


Blogger Anne C. said...

I'm intrigued!

Fri Aug 08, 07:30:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I'm glad, Anne!

Fri Aug 08, 01:55:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

My co-worker's brother, and a friend of my own brother both live in Campbell River. Oh, what a lovely place to be!

Fri Aug 08, 11:03:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Hi Chumplet, you're right. It is lovely. Come visit!

Sat Aug 09, 04:15:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Wonderful. In all meanings of the word.

Sat Aug 09, 05:01:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Tamara.

Sat Aug 09, 06:01:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I read John Updike somewhere talking about taking a trip to Southern Ontario to see the country that Alice Munro wrote about. It shocked me. I don't think you notice a writer's milieu as much if you share it. When I read a writer from some exotic locale that's one of the first things I respond to. Whereas I don't think I've ever thought about the landscape of Alice Munro. There's probably somebody in India reading Rohinton Mistry not paying any attention to the surroundings of the story. Too familiar.
Funny though, when it comes to character, it's just the opposite. When a writer hits on some familiar aspect of human nature, I'm buzzing!

Wed Aug 13, 10:04:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Oh, I hope there's another installment of this tale. I'm riveted. What a great trip this must have been!

Wed Aug 20, 11:18:00 pm GMT-4  

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