And so its happened this year. Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize. I think all of us who have been reading her for years have wondered if the Swedish Academy would ever get it together. She is regularly described as one of the greatest living short story writers, one of the greatest Canadian writers, one of the greatest writers in English. Time to drop the qualifiers. She is simply one of the greatest writers. No writer I know can use the smooth, flat surface of words in less adorned sentences to convey more densely layered information. As you read the excerpt below, the opening passage to the story “Floating Bridge” in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, let yourself stop for a moment after each sentence to consider what you’ve just been handed. Hold how it ramifies that “One time she left him.” One time? If you allow it – and this is why she is, for all her surface accessibility, a mighty and difficult artist – you will find that by the end, your heart is in shards around your feet and you have been all but tricked into becoming, at least for a moment, a fuller, kinder, sadder, richer, human being.
One time she left him. The immediate reason was fairly trivial. He had joined a couple of the Young Offenders (Yo-yos was what he called them) in gobbling up a gingerbread cake she had just made and intended to serve after a meeting that evening. Unobserved—at least by Neal and the Yo-yos—she had left the house and gone to sit in a three-sided shelter on the main street, where the city bus stopped twice a day. She had never been in their before, and she had a couple of hours to wait. She sat and read everything that had been written on or cut into those wooden walls. Various initials loved each other 4 ever. Laurie G. sucked cock. Dunk Cultis was a fag. So was Mr. Garner (Math).
Eat Shit H.W. Gange rules. Skate or Die. God hates filth. Kevin S. is Dead Meat. Amanda W. is beautiful and sweet and I wish they did not put her in jail because I miss her with all my heart. I want to fuck V.P. Ladies have to sit here and read this disgusting dirty things what you write.
Looking at this barrage of human messages—and puzzleing in particular over the heartfelt, very neatly written sentence concerning Amanda W., Jinny wondered if people were alone when they wrote such things. And she went on to imagine herself sitting here or in some similar place, waiting for a bus, alone, as she would surely be if she went ahead with the plan she was set on now. Would she be compelled to make statements on public walls?
She felt herself connected at present with the way people felt when they had to write certain things down—she was connected by her feelings of anger, of petty outrage (perhaps it was petty?), and her excitement at what she was doing to Neal, to pay him back. But the life she was carrying herself into might not give her anybody to be angry at, or anybody who owed her anything, anybody who could possibly be rewarded or punished or truly affected by what she might do. Her feelings might become of no importance to anybody but herself, and yet they would be bulging up inside her, squeezing her heart and breath.
She was not, after all, somebody people flocked to in the world. And yet she was choosy, in her own way.
The bus was still not in sight when she got up and walked home.
Neal was not there. He was returning the boys to the school, and by the time he got back somebody had already arrived, early for the meeting. She told him what she’d done when she was well over it and it could be turned into a joke. In fact, it became a joke she told in company—leaving out or just describing in a general way the things she’d read on the walls—many times.
“Would you ever have thought to come after me?” she said to Neal.
“Of course. Given time.”
from: “Floating Bridge”
I would congratulate you, Ms. Munro, if I didn’t feel a heartfelt Thank You wasn’t more in order.