As I’ve mentioned earlier in posts regarding Alice Munro’s stories, she is a master at creating complex narratives which span time. “Pride” published in the April 2011 issue of Harper’s continues that trend, but not as deftly as “Axis” or “Corrie.”
The story starts pre-World War II and involves two outcasts from a small town in Ontario. The narrator is an outcast due to his harelip, a physical deformity that keeps him on the outskirts, accepted, but overlooked. It also keeps him from serving in the military during the war, which seems strange to me, but I’m going to trust Munro checked her facts. The other character is a rich girl, then woman, named Oneida. Her stature in the town as the bank manager’s daughter keeps her from being close to anyone. After her father is involved in a scandal, she’s even more reclusive.
A relationship starts between Oneida and the narrator. It’s built around friendship, but also need, as both characters are fairly lonely people. There are missed opportunities as the narrator is self-conscious of his harelip and believes no one would want him, let alone a beautiful, sophisticated woman like Oneida. For her part, she is seen as unapproachable and ages without serious suitors or loves.
The story is quiet, with a subdued mood. Time moves slowly in the town, and while changes occur, their meaning is not always clear to the reader. A vast apartment complex is built. It seems like this is supposed to ground the reader in a time period or signal that we have shifted a decade into the future, but the importance is lost.
Toward the end of the story, both characters have aged considerably, but it feels out of place. I missed when that happened. Was Munro trying to make a point? Time passes by so quickly that we all fail to notice, or was it a mechanical error in the story? It feels like Munro was aware that the movement of time was a problem in this story, because at the end, Oneida says, “She’s on email. She says that’s what I should do. I’m not keen on it somehow. Are you?”
When I read this it was a shock. I thought the characters were in their 40’s or 50’s, and then I realized they were around their 70’s. How did I miss that? There were lines like, “During those years when the new shopping mall was built on the south edge of town,” and “looking forward to a careful old age,” that should have been clues, but I skimmed past them. So when I read the line about email it felt like a deliberate, contrived piece of dialogue to pass information to the reader. Email equals sometime in the late 90’s or early 00’s. Okay, wow, Oneida and the narrator are both well into old age. For me, this didn’t work. I enjoy how Munro navigates decades in a matter of pages, but “Pride” is not her best example of this ability.