“Axis” by Alice Munro is a story that breaks off into multiple narratives, which like her story “Corrie,” span across decades. The story revolves around three characters: Grace, Avie, and Royce. Grace and Avie are both farm girls on scholarship to university where they intend to meet their future husbands. This story takes place around the 1950’s. That’s my guess from the opening sentence, “Fifty years ago, Grace and Avie were waiting at the university gates, in the freezing cold.” Essentially, “Axis” examines the time period and the romantic/sexual relationships of the characters.
Royce is a World War II veteran and isn’t as earnest as the young women. Whereas the women both want to marry, Royce is more interested in sex. He’s been dating Grace during the school year, and comes out to visit her family’s farm in the summer time, after she has discontinued her education. The whole scene is setup where the reader knows what will happen. Grace’s family mistrusts Royce, and the weekend is spent trying to orchestrate a way for the young couple to have sex. When their plan comes to fruition it’s no surprise that they are caught. Royce’s reaction, while not unbelievable, is definitely over the top, and makes him despicable.
The narration shifts and Avie takes over. The story jumps to her being married, being happy, speeds forward and suddenly she randomly meets Royce on a train. What’s the point of this meeting? To show that Grace’s life could have been like Avie’s if she hadn’t met Royce? To show us that in the fifty years since Royce walked away from Grace that he, Royce, has become a geographer and drifted around without getting married or having kids?
It’s interesting that the story revolves around Grace, but never gives her a voice. We see her in a limited way from Royce and Avie’s perspectives. We don’t know what happened to her. Both characters go on with their lives. Perhaps, that’s what makes this story haunting. It speaks to how easily we move on. We relocate, and faces disappear. That dear friend from college becomes a postcard around the holidays, an email address, and a Facebook page until they recede into memory, and then out of it. They vanish.
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