Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 16

Thread: Alice Munro - Walker Brothers Cowboy

  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Posts
    84

    Alice Munro - Walker Brothers Cowboy

    Anyone read this story?

    I'm just reading Munro for the first time and have read 2 short stories so far and they bore me to death.

    Specifically this one seemed UTTERLY pointless. Not only does nothing happen, which is fine, plotless stories can be good, but there's also just nothing there.

    So my question is, are there any Munro fans here who've read this particular story to tell me whether they like it and what they like about it?

    Also generally, what do you like about her?

  2. #2
    flash fiction fatale heartwing's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    central Florida
    Posts
    85
    I used to have a mentor who used to attack Alice Munro. It felt like nothing less than complete vindication when, several years after I graduated, she won the Nobel. But I enjoyed the work of my mentor as much as Munro's so his attitude was always a mystery. Was it jealousy? The fact that she is a woman? I have no idea.

    I have not read this story, though, so I'd like to look at it.

    I love Munro. Found her by chance when I was perusing a bookshop in Victoria. That collection - Lives of Girls and Women - may even have her signature on it. I need to get it analyzed and appraised. But I did not treat that first book of hers with any special care. I did not know this author. I just started getting into her work when I was a new mother and living the military life with my then husband. I had put down writing for a while to care for an infant child. Her writing really spoke and so years later when I picked up Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, I saw it still spoke to me.

    Sometimes you find those writers who, mysteriously, just stick to you, grow with you, whose work and explorations are expansive enough to mature as you mature. Munro is one of these kinds of writers for me and my life is better for having read her work.

    Maybe one should wonder what is going on if one feels one is reading a story that is "pointless." To me, literature is like a person. The best literature reads you. It is not just something that is read. Just a thought. I'll be glad to get into it more once I've read the story. Who knows, maybe I'll feel the same way as you do about this particular story. I don't think so, or at least, it seems highly unlikely. I'll get back to you.
    Last edited by heartwing; 07-15-2016 at 07:58 PM.
    “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” ― Muriel Rukeyser
    (image: walking by crilleb50, deviantArt)

  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Posts
    84
    Quote Originally Posted by heartwing View Post
    I used to have a mentor who used to attack Alice Munro. It felt like nothing less than complete vindication when, several years after I graduated, she won the Nobel. But I enjoyed the work of my mentor as much as Munro's so his attitude was always a mystery. Was it jealousy? The fact that she is a woman? I have no idea.

    I have not read this story, though, so I'd like to look at it.

    I love Munro. Found her by chance when I was perusing a bookshop in Victoria. That collection - Lives of Girls and Women - may even have her signature on it. I need to get it analyzed and appraised. But I did not treat that first book of hers with any special care. I did not know this author. I just started getting into her work when I was a new mother and living the military life with my then husband. I had put down writing for a while to care for an infant child. Her writing really spoke and so years later when I picked up Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, I saw it still spoke to me.

    Sometimes you find those writers who, mysteriously, just stick to you, grow with you, whose work and explorations are expansive enough to mature as you mature. Munro is one of these kinds of writers for me and my life is better for having read her work.

    Maybe one should wonder what is going on if one feels one is reading a story that is "pointless." To me, literature is like a person. The best literature reads you. It is not just something that is read. Just a thought. I'll be glad to get into it more once I've read the story. Who knows, maybe I'll feel the same way as you do about this particular story. I don't think so, or at least, it seems highly unlikely. I'll get back to you.
    I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

    I've also read "Dance of the Happy Shades," have you read that one?

    I'm going through a collection of her short stories right now so we'll be able to discuss more of her stories as I read through them. I'd really like to talk about her stories to someone who's a fan as, so far, I'm mystified as to why she is so highly regarded. But, I've only read 2 stories so far.

  4. #4
    flash fiction fatale heartwing's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    central Florida
    Posts
    85
    The collection these two stories come from is Dance of the Happy Shades. I need to get that and round up my Alice Munro stuff and get to it. I'll get back to you. It would be a welcome endeavor for me. Thanks, Alfred. Maybe there are other Munro lovers (or haters) out there who can join in too. That would be cool.
    “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” ― Muriel Rukeyser
    (image: walking by crilleb50, deviantArt)

  5. #5
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Posts
    84
    I'll wait for your response.

    Yeah, hopefully there are other folks who can pipe up on this.

  6. #6
    Registered User Clopin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Posts
    1,728
    Blog Entries
    1
    She's my personal favourite author.
    So with the courage of a clown, or a cur, or a kite jerkin tight at it's tether

  7. #7
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Posts
    84
    Quote Originally Posted by Clopin View Post
    She's my personal favourite author.
    Have you read any of the two stories I mentioned?

  8. #8
    Registered User Clopin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Posts
    1,728
    Blog Entries
    1
    Yes, I enjoyed them. Go read Vandals and tell me if you still dislike her.
    So with the courage of a clown, or a cur, or a kite jerkin tight at it's tether

  9. #9
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Posts
    84
    I'll read that.

    Ok, but tell me what you like about the Cowboy story, because, the way I see it, there is nothing there, as I said. I don't mean no plot, I mean nothing of interest, no point.

    The Dance of the Happy Sades story bored me all the way throughout, but there was a point to it. The ending (SPOILERS INCOMING, folks) where the old lady is kind of vindicated by that one talented student, that was impactful and poignant, even tho I still see the story as an artistic failiure, because, as I said, it is dull as ditchwater.

    With the Cowboy story, however, there's nothing like that in it. It is literally like a transcript of someone's car trip with no point to it. There was nothing emotionally impactful or intellectually interesting about it.

    What did you like about that story?

  10. #10
    Registered User Clopin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Posts
    1,728
    Blog Entries
    1
    I haven't read WBC in a long time but isn't there subtext regarding a failed relationship when he visits the house off of his sales route with his children and they're introduced to the women and her mother? I think you're approaching the stories from the wrong angle anyway, nothing needs to 'happen' for something to be enjoyable. I think Munro herself described good stories as "less like a road which takes you from point a to b and more like a house which you can stop and look at, exploring the rooms in whatever order you like". Her stories are also usually highly atmospheric. Generally not a lot happens during the story, though quite frequently you're exposed to past events and flashbacks of events leading up to the present in which the story is taking place. It's quite suspenseful and usually her stories are very emotionally tense, there's a lot of foreshadowing. I'm not the best at describing/discussing literature but, yes, if you're looking for a lot of things to happen then she's probably not the writer for you.
    Last edited by Clopin; 07-19-2016 at 04:55 PM.
    So with the courage of a clown, or a cur, or a kite jerkin tight at it's tether

  11. #11
    flash fiction fatale heartwing's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    central Florida
    Posts
    85
    Quote Originally Posted by Clopin View Post
    I think Munro herself described good stories as "less like a road which takes you from point a to b and more like a house which you can stop and look at, exploring the rooms in whatever order you like". Her stories are also usually highly atmospheric. Generally not a lot happens during the story, though quite frequently you're exposed to past events and flashbacks of events leading up to the present in which the story is taking place. It's quite suspenseful and usually her stories are very emotionally tense, there's a lot of foreshadowing. I'm not the best at describing/discussing literature but, yes, if you're looking for a lot of things to happen then she's probably not the writer for you.
    I appreciate this definition of good stories. And leave it to Munro to provide the perfect visual. And thank you for your excellent analysis and summary of her work. Yes, I think you have encapsulated the essence of her style quite well and said what I like about it too.
    “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” ― Muriel Rukeyser
    (image: walking by crilleb50, deviantArt)

  12. #12
    flash fiction fatale heartwing's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    central Florida
    Posts
    85
    This still isn't the story you're talking about, but many of Munro's stories are similar and interrelated in some ways by means of their depiction of a similar locale, a similar time, and she uses a style that is consistent. This is an analysis of what I felt to be the theme of Flats Road of her second collection Lives of Girls and Women.

    Annotation: Alice Munro’s “The Flats Road”


    The theme of “The Flats Road” by Alice Munro is storytelling. It is a story full of people who love to tell stories, who love to read stories and who sometimes use stories as a means to repress acknowledgment of darker realities. It involves the rise and fall of storytellers and a portrayal of their limitations and their powers.

    The story itself is told by a first person narrator who is an older narrator looking back on the events of her childhood. For the most part, the narrator confines herself to what she knew and thought and experienced as a child. Only occasionally will she jump ahead to remind the reader that she is a person looking back. The function that these reminders have as well as their relation to the theme will be examined.

    The opening paragraph introduces us to the narrator who is physically present, along with another person, presumably a child, likely a sibling. The pronoun used is “we” and we do not know the narrator’s name. The “we” is involved in the action and portrayed as doing child-like things, such as catching and squashing young frogs that “Uncle Benny” will use as bait.

    “Uncle Benny” is described as “not our uncle, or anybody’s.” Uncle Benny is a friend of the family’s who lives close by on Flats Road. The fact that his name is mentioned so early in the story, even before anyone else’s name, seems to signal something about his importance in the story. He is a teller of tales, a believer in fantastic events, a collector of wild and tame animals and schemes or rumors of schemes involving selling them. He claims land that isn’t his (“But we never thought of that,” says the narrator, reminding the reader of the gap between then and now.) He talks and dreams of business ventures he never begins. He has a house on the edge of the swamp, right down from the narrator’s, which is full of odds and ends from his family and other things he’s collected. “He valued debris for its own sake.” He hoards back copies of a sensationalistic newspaper which the narrator reads becoming “bloated and giddy with revelations of evil, of its versatility and grand invention and horrific playfulness.” Is the narrator getting her education in storytelling at Uncle Benny’s?

    The playfulness and fun is taken out of it as she returns home after such a session:

    But the nearer I got to our house the more this vision faded. Why was it that the
    plain back wall of home, the pale chipped brick, the cement platform outside the
    kitchen door, washtubs hanging on nails, the pump, the lilac bush with brown-
    spotted leaves, should make it seem doubtful that a woman would really send her
    husband’s torso, wrapped in Christmas paper, by mail to his girl friend in South
    Carolina?

    The narrator’s home life and its “real life” details present a stark contrast to the “horrific playfulness” of Uncle Benny’s newspapers. There is a dark comedic touch to this passage, especially in the mention of the torso wrapped in Christmas paper. It is more beautiful and picaresque, in all its horror, than the plainness of domestic realities, the effect of time and use on the wall of the house, the bricks, the lilac bush. What is a burgeoning storyteller to do in light of such realities? The image of the washtub and pump would be especially sobering for a young female writer.

    What changes in the story when the “vision [fades]” is the subject. Uncle Benny has largely dominated the opening paragraphs. When the narrator must leave off the sensational stories in Uncle Benny’s papers and return home, the subject shifts to a description of Flats Road, the town, and their geographic position there, which leads to clues about the family’s socioeconomic status. The narrator introduces us to several town characters, including the “idiots” who live on Flats road, one of whom, Irene Pollox, chases children. The children have a dirty rhyme about her and “even Uncle Benny said it,” but the narrator cleans it up when she’s with her mother. The narrator’s mother has the power to influence the content of the children’s rhyme, but she cannot influence what other adults say about her, the stories they tell, their gossip. She insists the narrator say that they lived at the end of the Flats Road, as if by doing so, she can elevate her socioeconomic status. Yet, the narrator admits: “Later on she was to find she did not belong in Jubilee either.” The reasons for this are not made explicit, but one catches a glimpse of the mother as someone trying very hard to climb the social ladder. We also catch a glimpse of her not trying hard at all with her neighbors on Flats Road. She has a missionary zeal for almost all the downtrodden, except drunks, lazy people, and whores, that is, all who lived on Flats Road. She only loves “the really oppressed and deprived people.” After a thorough description of the mother’s character, the narrator offers a brief description of the father. He is liked by everyone and comfortable where he lives. He likes having Uncle Benny as his friend.

    The narrator then gives us another description of Uncle Benny, the mysterious larger-than-life eccentric who dominated the opening pages. The narrator tells us that he frequents the house for lunch every day except Sunday and that he tells stories the mother insists would never have happened. One story in particular is a ghost story that traumatized and broke up a newlywed couple. It is about a real person who claimed to have experienced it and come out of the other side with bruises to prove it. The mother’s response is that of an “educated” person: “She began explaining how it was all coincidence, imagination, self-suggestion.” Uncle Benny pities her for this. Perhaps his pity concerns itself with her failure of imagination. Or he pities her for the position she has taken, so far “above” believing in a story like this, yet he is their friend and sups at their table.

    Uncle Benny’s story, of a newlywed couple’s nightmare, does find some semblance with reality within the story. The young narrator takes dictation from Benny for a classified ad for a bride. What this act of writing produces is an actual person – a terrible, devastating, destructive one – with a baby in tow, a child who appears to be terrorized and abused. Madeleine, Benny’s new wife, creates violent scenes and inspires the telling of stories around town. Even Uncle Benny tells stories about her. And yet, he covers for her at the same time, never fully admitting to the abuse he or the child may be suffering. When she leaves and takes the child and things from the house, he is upset. He is upset, however, because he has taken things that belong to him: Debris, essentially. This is what makes up the stuff of Uncle Benny, what he prizes most, what his identity is founded upon: particular items, flotsam and jetsam. When he goes to Toronto to hunt his wife down, he cannot find his way around because he is too provincial, too childlike. He cannot think abstractly enough to make crucial decisions, even small ones, such as how to turn left against oncoming traffic. Yet in reporting his failure to find his wife, he can recall all the particulars of his circuitous route with a recall that is almost savant-like in its detail. In the end, he was able to convince his listeners of the inevitability of the outcome of his journey, and he therefore “succeeded” as a storyteller:

    So lying alongside our world was Uncle Benny’s world like a troubling
    distorted reflection, the same but never at all the same. In that world people could
    go down in quicksand, be vanquished by ghosts or terrible ordinary cities; luck and
    wickedness were gigantic and unpredictable; nothing was deserved, anything
    might happen; defeats were met with crazy satisfaction. It was his triumph,
    that he couldn’t know about, to make us see.

    Owen, the narrator’s brother, then sings a patriotic song in a “derogatory way.” The song was one that the children were singing in school “to help save England from Hitler.” He pronounces a word wrong, a word that the mother has tried to correct: “My mother said it was extol but I would not believe that, for how would it rhyme?” Something of Uncle Benny’s logic seems to be reflected here. A nonsensical word, one that is created by a child, becomes something to “believe” in. The secret, dirty rhyme to keep the Flats Road idiot away finds a reflection in the secret nonsensical rhyme to stave off Hitler. You had to keep the secret from the adults (as in the first rhyme), because look what happens if you don’t: They’ll go about correcting you, just like they try to correct Uncle Benny by telling him his ghost story cannot be true or that a map could have kept him from getting lost in the city. And there is something else this mention of Hitler has in common with the “world of Uncle Benny:” Uncle Benny believes in stories where “luck and wickedness were gigantic and unpredictable.” Maybe Benny knows something after all.
    Nonetheless, the parents, the adults become a “fence” between the children and Benny, between the children and the Flats Road, between the children and “anything.” Benny has come down a few notches in the conclusion. He is portrayed as an adult who is unable to make it in the adult world and who is therefore, trapped somewhere in between childhood and full maturity. He is banished from the final scene, except as he appears in stories.

    The parents become watchmen, playing cards downstairs while their children lay in their beds in the dark with the wind outside. “The upstairs seemed miles above them,” says the narrator, and “up there you discovered what you never remembered down in the kitchen.” There is another more menacing “fence” between the children and their parents with the removal of Uncle Benny. Perhaps this “fence” has to do with words and the use of words, of language and its secret power to call up the forces of the imagination, to summon actual people, to change lives. What the narrator can’t seem to remember to communicate when she is downstairs is a truth that the children share with Benny concerning the pointlessness of maps and the real danger that lurks in the world. She keeps forgetting to tell them that they “were in a house as small and shut-up as any boat is on the sea, in the middle of a tide of howling weather.”

    And yet, for all her childhood wisdom, the narrator feels a love for that which is familiar. She says, the thought of her parents downstairs is “as prosaic as a hiccough, familiar as breath.” This prepares us for the way the family is able to frame the event of Madeleine at the end of the narrative: She becomes a story. Even the possibility of child abuse is repressed in favor of story:

    Uncle Benny could have made up the beatings, my mother said at last, and took that for comfort; how was he to be trusted? Madeleine herself was like something he might have made up.

    Only the narrator has the final word, the narrator and her rendition of how things went. And, over against her mother’s denial, she can tell the story behind the story, the story which surrounds this story. The narrator, as an adult, finally has the power to speak.
    Last edited by heartwing; 07-19-2016 at 10:15 PM.
    “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” ― Muriel Rukeyser
    (image: walking by crilleb50, deviantArt)

  13. #13
    flash fiction fatale heartwing's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    central Florida
    Posts
    85
    I wrote the annotation for graduate school for my mfa.
    “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” ― Muriel Rukeyser
    (image: walking by crilleb50, deviantArt)

  14. #14
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Posts
    84
    Quote Originally Posted by Clopin View Post
    I haven't read WBC in a long time but isn't there subtext regarding a failed relationship when he visits the house off of his sales route with his children and they're introduced to the women and her mother? I think you're approaching the stories from the wrong angle anyway, nothing needs to 'happen' for something to be enjoyable. I think Munro herself described good stories as "less like a road which takes you from point a to b and more like a house which you can stop and look at, exploring the rooms in whatever order you like". Her stories are also usually highly atmospheric. Generally not a lot happens during the story, though quite frequently you're exposed to past events and flashbacks of events leading up to the present in which the story is taking place. It's quite suspenseful and usually her stories are very emotionally tense, there's a lot of foreshadowing. I'm not the best at describing/discussing literature but, yes, if you're looking for a lot of things to happen then she's probably not the writer for you.
    You misunderstand, as I said, I DON'T need anything to happen. I don't necessarily mind that there isn't plot, but there has to be some substance. There has to be something of "value" to the story, whether that be witty dialogue, an emotional punch, great atmosphere, SOMETHING, like the thing I talked about with regards to the Dance story.

    Raging Bull is pretty plotless but its an interesting character study of a guy ridden by his macho insecurities and how they drive him to make bad choices and then there's the emotional moment where this proud guy is made to bend over for the mob when they force him to take a dive etc etc. There's CONTENT there. An Alice Munro story is a transcript of a person's day. There's nothing there. Nothing of interest.

    Yes, they visit a former lover of the father's, but, again, there's nothing of interest there.

    Quote Originally Posted by heartwing View Post
    I wrote the annotation for graduate school for my mfa.
    I haven't read the story you wrote about, I'll see if I can get to it.

    Have you read Dance of the Happy Shades or Walker Brothers Cowboy?

  15. #15
    flash fiction fatale heartwing's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    central Florida
    Posts
    85
    Quote Originally Posted by Alfred001 View Post
    An Alice Munro story is a transcript of a person's day. There's nothing there. Nothing of interest.

    Yes, they visit a former lover of the father's, but, again, there's nothing of interest there.



    I haven't read the story you wrote about, I'll see if I can get to it.

    Have you read Dance of the Happy Shades or Walker Brothers Cowboy?
    Love of literature is subjective. You have your opinion about the kind of literature you enjoy reading but others can legitimately have different tastes, no? I get what you are saying but finding beauty in the nuances of a subtly crafted story is a pleasure for those who find resonance in such works. If you don't find pleasure in that, you don't find pleasure in it. I'm not sure what is to be gained by expecting others to defend something when you are convinced already how you feel.

    If you want to stay open, I will get to these stories when I have a moment. Maybe since you are expecting so much - not only a reading and discussion but a complete defense - you can get to the story for which I have already provided an analysis.
    Last edited by heartwing; 07-20-2016 at 08:46 AM.
    “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” ― Muriel Rukeyser
    (image: walking by crilleb50, deviantArt)

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
    By Scheherazade in forum Write a Book Review
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 12-17-2016, 05:52 AM
  2. Alice Munro
    By Jozanny in forum General Literature
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: 12-09-2009, 02:36 AM
  3. Alice Munro anyone?
    By papayahed in forum General Literature
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 05-16-2009, 08:48 PM
  4. Alice Munro- HELP PLEASE!!!
    By friend4u726 in forum General Literature
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: 08-30-2002, 01:28 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •