One of the reasons I won’t hit my goal of books this year is the collection of short stories: Dear Life by Alice Munro which I read six months ago. The writing is terrific, and yet, the stark reality of these stories put me in a funk. Most of us live insignificant lives, the small details, the dramas, don’t add up to much in the end. Munro’s characters don’t learn lessons, their stories simply reminding us how small life is.
Leaving Maverly is set in a small town. Leah, a young girl seeks a job in a movie theater. Her parents belong to an unusual religion and consent only if she does not see the movies. Ray is a is a night policeman who walks her home, he and his wife Isabel have no children and Isabel is ill. They talk about Leah. Leah goes missing, her father doesn’t seem to care. Ray finds out she had another job doing laundry for the minister’s wife. Leah writes the minister to say she has married the minister’s son. Years go by, Isabel is hospitalized. Ray sees Leah, she’s divorced and has lost custody of her kids, her mother-in-law has them. Isabel dies.
“She had existed and now she did not. Not at all, as if this outrageous fact could be overcome by making sensible arrangements. He, too, obeyed the customs, signing where he was told to sign, arranging –as they said– for the remains.
What an excellent word — “remains.” Like something left to dry out in sooty layers in a cupboard.”
All of the stories are like Leaving Maverly. Small slices of life, painful and sad. On the book jacket an excerpt of a Chicago Tribune says “Exquisite . . . No other author can tell quite so much with so little.” Yep.