Corrie – Alice Munro – Mood

Corrie” by Alice Munro reminds me of an Alfred Hitchcock film.  There’s something sinister in the story below the surface.  It opens with Howard, an architect hired to work on a church, consulting with his client and client’s daughter, Corrie, at their home.  Corrie is unlike most young women and seems to play by her own rules.  At first, Howard is put off by her forthrightness and humor.  She seems like Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks: a mix of naiveté, mystery, and sexiness.
As the story proceeds, Howard and Corrie have an affair.  There is an off-putting feeling that develops because Corrie has a lame leg from polio, and Howard is vaguely attracted by this.  

He hadn’t been sure how he would react to the foot, in bed.  But in some way it seemed more appealing, more unique, than the rest of her.

 The affair is discovered by a maid, and the two are blackmailed.  The blackmail sets the mood for the rest of story.  The two are no longer in control.  Year after year, Corrie pays money, which Howard delivers to a P.O. Box.  Howard no longer lives in the same city, but he still makes trips to see Corrie.  The affair continues.

By the end of the story, Corrie has come to a realization.  This isn’t the worked over epiphany that deserves to get trashed, but something deeper.  The woman who has blackmailed them dies.  Corrie attends the funeral.  It’s there that things begin to fit into place.  Trying to write a letter to Howard, she waits until the morning.

There’s always one morning when you realize that the birds have all gone.

She knows something.  She has found it in her sleep. 

There is no news to give him.  No news, because there never was any. 

No news about Sadie, because Sadie doesn’t matter and she never did.  No post-office box, because the money goes straight into an account or maybe just into a wallet.  General expenses.  Or a modest next egg.  A trip to Spain.  Who cares?  People with families, summer cottages, children to educate, bills to pay—they don’t have to think about how to spend such an amount of money.  It can’t even be called a windfall.  No need to explain it.

There is a moment when Corrie is overwhelmed.  The reader is caught up in the actions of Howard, and identifies with Corrie as she’s betrayed.  What happens next casts the reader off, and shifts the story in a way that is dark and unsettling.

But then there is a surprise.  She is capable, still, of shaping up another possibility.

If he doesn’t know that Aadie is dead he will just expect things to go on as usual.  And how would he know, unless he is told?  And who would he be told by, unless by Corrie herself?

She could say something that would destroy them, but she does not have to.

What a time it has taken her, to figure this out.

And after all, if what they had—what they have—demands payment, she is the one who can afford to pay.

When she goes down to the kitchen again she goes gingerly, making everything fit into its proper place.

The reader is left stomaching Corrie’s decision.  The character seems to have no moral qualms about it, but for the reader it’s painful and disturbing.  Corrie is willing to propagate the lie to have this relationship.  And what is the relationship?  An affair with real affection, possibly love?  Or a man, pimping himself out for a better lifestyle?

Please checkout the great discussion of this story on Reading the Short Story, a blog by Charles May.

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