Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro

(Book 130) We thank Marcia for putting this month’s Zoom together; we started the meeting getting a head count of who has had their COVID vaccine, parts 1 and 2, with the hope of ditching these zoom calls and getting back together in person. We are making progress.

This month’s book was chosen to be an examination of marriage. Though it is not required, marriage is the traditional start to our year-long theme of Family. Melissa commented that rather than a look at marriage, the short stories in this collection all had the common theme of death. We granted her that assessment, but mentioned that it was possible to look at each story and determine the way the death influenced the marriage or relationship. In some stories a death was the impetus for a second marriage, while in others, a death prevented a relationship from developing. Rosalie opined that the collection of stories provide a picture of culture and civility, and what happens when intimacy impinges. Linda observed that each story seemed to have a moment when one of the characters experiences something of great significance, a moment that lives in memory, even when that may not be at all true for the other character in the memory.

Though the general consensus was one of high praise for the writing, there was some criticism of the stories as a collection. Chris expressed concern that a number of the stories suggested that women are only valued for their beauty, citing a description “no beauty queen ever.” Melissa and Sharon mentioned that all of the stories meandered a bit; that they weren’t as taut as the ideal short story.

The title story Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage was Sharon’s favorite. She felt it was true to life, that it wasn’t a perfect situation, but it ended as well as it could have. I told the girls that I feared a Flannery O’Connor ending as soon as the girls started interfering with the letters, and was so relieved when it didn’t turn out tragically.

Floating Bridge was appreciated by a number of us. Mary’s reaction to the kiss that was an “event, in itself.” — “No wonder the bridge was floating!” I had a number of favorite moments from this one including Jinny’s description of the unattractive curtain and the hospital bed in the living room as the moment “when ugly and beautiful serve pretty much the same purpose;” Neal’s face showing “signs of an invasion of bliss;” Helen’s presence in the car as “that of a domestic cat that should never be brought along in any vehicle, being too high-strung to have sense, too apt to spring between the seats;” and my favorite, Jinny’s assessment of all the junk in Matt’s yard: “What a lot of things people could find themselves in charge of.” Chris had a favorite moment from this story but I couldn’t find what I had written in my notes in the text of the story so maybe she will add the comment.

Family Furnishings was Rosalie’s favorite. I’m going to ask Rosalie to leave a comment to tell us why. One of the things I loved about this story was the description of a “city person.” The city was “not just a distinct configuration of buildings and sidewalks and streetcar lines or even a crowding together of individual people. It meant something more abstract that could be repeated over and over, something like a hive of bees, stormy but organized, not useless or deluded exactly, but disturbing and sometimes dangerous. People went into such a place when they had to and were glad when they got out. Some, however, were attracted to it — as Alfrida must have been…”

Nothing was said about Comfort. I’m guessing that most of us had difficulty with the notion of teacher being pressured to add Creationism to his syllabus.

Nettles was another favorite. Rosalie mentioned that genders were so separate when she was growing up, but Melissa said the story made her think of her childhood friend, the boy whose name we all love to hear: Johnny Beetle Nelson, Jr, the third. Mary loved the recollection of the childhood relationship and Chris commented that this was one of the times, when someone is so wrapped up in a memory and is at a point in life open and ready to return to it, but the other player in the memory is at a terrible spot in his life. He may remember it similarly, but is in no position to act on it.

In our discussion of Post and Beam, I had to ask about Lorna’s praying, because she repeated “Let it not happen, let it not to have happened.” This has always been the way that I have prayed when I’m scared that someone is in trouble and I was surprised to see it, the use of “let” so I had to ask everyone. Geri said that she does, that she’d been thinking “Don’t let Teresa call on me!” Chris mentioned that it’s in the song “Let there be peace on earth” which Linda assured us wasn’t a Catholic song though it was played at my Uncle Joe’s funeral and my mom cried when they sang “Let me walk with my brother.” But I digress. It does seem to break down as a Catholic way to pray. Mary prays that way, Marcia doesn’t. Chris appreciated the last line of this one: “It was a long time ago that this happened. In North Vancouver, when they lived in the Post and Beam house. When she was twenty-four years old, and new to bargaining.”

When we discussed What is Remembered we noted that the doctor refused to kiss Meriel at the ferry. Mary entertained us with “It was not like the floating bridge kiss!”

Queenie didn’t receive much attention either. I said I would love to have a robe I could call Buffalo Bill and mentioned that my favorite piece of witticism in this one was the woman who’d “lost the convenience of a waist line.” Marcia and I identified with that more than we cared to.

Finally we come to The Bear Came Over the Mountain, the last story in the collection, which we actually talked about early in our discussion. It was termed “difficult.” I brought up that it is unlike the others because its title doesn’t come from the text of the story. I’d looked online to see if I could find any information about that and I found a wealth of it. Much interest is placed in the author’s change of the song title, the substitution of came for went. One paper, The Skald and the Goddess: Reading “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro written by Héliane Ventura opined that it all had to do with the tradition of Nonsense.

“As demonstrated by Jean-Jacques Lecercle in his founding essay on Nonsense which I will substantially quote in my analysis of Munro’s story, there is, a “down-to-earth attitude,” a “refusal to be surprised” (97) by the turn of events and to yield to emotion or become a prey to a sense of pain or catastrophe. We find the same sense of restraint in the American Folk Song, a spelling out of ordinariness no matter what happens…” “The world that the bear discovers is just as ordinary as the one he has just left. He goes on the other side of the mountain and discovers the other side of the mountain. Expression is reduced to tautology, and tautology is fraught with rhetorical power. It reinforces and guarantees the ideology we live by: boys will be boys.”

Part of that quote makes me wish I hadn’t just dropped my thinking cap at the dry cleaners, but I think that we’re supposed to understand that Grant is not doing anything particularly remarkable in arranging for Aubrey to return to the home, he is rather continuing the philandering he has done throughout his marriage. As I mentioned, it is difficult. Rosalie liked that we don’t know what’s going to happen after Fiona seems to recognize Grant. Like life, you just never know.

After the book discussion the girls turned in their homework. The assignment was to tell a story about marriage. For those of you who weren’t in class last night or left before I collected the assignments, I still expect them to be turned in.

Linda told a beautiful story about helping her mom to clean out her father’s closet after his death. Trying to put a positive spin on a sad moment, Linda said “You’ve got two closets now!” and her mom said “I’d rather have Walt.” I asked Geri what choice she would make between Jack and an extra closet and though she didn’t actually state a choice, she did say that Jack had the bigger closet.

Melissa went farther back, to her grandparents, who after 50 or so years of marriage, her grandmother decided it was time for twin beds. Her grandfather took a picture of her from the dresser and took it to bed with him because he just couldn’t have her that far away.

Mary told about first meeting Ron and finding out that he was a radiographer. Mary knew what a radiologist did and asked Ron “What’s the difference between a radiologist and a radiographer?” Ron’s answer “A couple hundred thousand a year.” She married him anyway — she’s no golddigger. ( not like some girls we know.)

Geri almost had a Nettles story to tell, but her older sister and ‘thug’ friends were the nettles that sat on the porch of Geri’s childhood home in Park Ridge and caused a young Jack Kelley to cross the street to stay clear of them when walking to the park to play baseball with the cousin he was visiting. He had to wait to meet his future wife until he went to college.

Chris told a story of longevity. She and Mike have been married for 46 1/2 years. She told us that when asked for relationship advice, she has warned that marriage is a cyclical kind of thing and that you may hate your partner for a whole year at a time. She wonders if humans are really meant to be monogamous and I said that my dreams didn’t seem to think so. But now we’re back to the floating bridge.

Marcia also told a story of longevity but that was the 3 hours she spent trying to decide whether to call Andrew. She finally made the call but her timing was off. When they finally had a moment in their busy schedules, all that was available was the movie Bad Lieutenant at the Fine Arts which Marcia reviewed as ” so dark and awful.” When crossing Michigan Ave, a large black rat crossed their path. Some of us would have been daunted by those portents, but Marcia’s never been one to let little problems stand in her way.

As for me, I’ve been married three times, and I wouldn’t want to play favorites choosing just one of my husbands to talk about. So, I told the story of how my uncle asked my mom out first, and after her refusal, he asked my aunt, my mom’s twin sister. My Uncle Floyd and Aunt Tene (Christine) were married, my mom was the Maid of Honor, and the newlyweds went off on their honeymoon to Turkey Run State Park. They were gone for two days and came back to get my mom. Aunt Tene missed her sister more than she liked being a new bride and Uncle Floyd may or may not have thought he had a two for one deal. He was French.

That concludes our stories about marriage. Join us next week when our discussion of Family will focus on the wife. We will be reading The Angry Wife by Pearl S. Buck and discussing it on Tuesday, March 23.

2 Replies to “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro”

  1. Why I loved “Family Furnishings”: For starters, my best friend (and later maid of honor, who was actually much like Alfrida in trying to shock our mothers) always called her cigarettes “ciggie-boos” and I hadn’t thought of her–or that–in years.

    The houses felt the ones my Kansas farm relatives lived in. Everything just too tidy and boring, including my seldom-seen aunts and elderly second cousins. Unchanging and proud of it. I remember I used to redecorate the rooms in my mind while my relatives talked to my mother and dad about nothing.

    The too-long meals: molded salads, in fact, molded everything. Remember when we read the history of cookbooks book? I had a jello cookbook and actually tried to make a layered jello once in champagne flutes that you stored sideways so the layers would slant. That’s something the narrator’s mother might have served when Alfrida visited.

    I have a kind of humorous marriage story that I tell often when I have to talk about hearing aids, which is often: My father got deafer and deafer and just resisted my sensible mother’s plea to get hearing aids. Finally, she won out and he was tested and fitted. That evening, he same out of the bathroom with a terrified look on his face! “Eleanor! Eleanor! I make noise when I pee!”

    Speaking of hearing, the reason I logged off early is that something isn’t quite right with my Linux, a new open-source operating system that a Florida friend installed and your voices just got faster and faster and I couldn’t adjust them to normal speed,, so I finally just gave up and went to bed.

    See you next month!

  2. Well, I can’t figure out which moment I loved in Floating Bridge either, but maybe I was thinking of the two passages I highlighted and they were the same ones you recorded, so there wasn’t anything else I wanted to say. I love the phrase “signs of an invasion of bliss,” and I loved the idea that “there comes a time when ugly and beautiful serve pretty much the same purpose.”

    As to my comment on marriage, it was supposed to be funny when I said it. It was my sister-in-law who called me (they had been married for 5 years and we had already been married for 20) and she was really worried that she didn’t seem to have the same feelings for her husband as before. I broke into an “What? Same feelings? Same feelings?” riff and mentioned that I had hated Mike for whole years at a time but that somehow his usually nonexistent radar kicked in right when I had had about enough, or something else changed, and I remembered why I was still with the guy. But that was not meant to say that people should stay married, and Geri’s comment about monogamy and mating for life–“People change”–is absolutely right. You just never know what’s gonna happen, as Rosalie said.

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