Alice Munro: “Axis” from The New Yorker, 1/31/2011

I’m giving this short shrift. There are reasons. Never mind what they are.

Two couples. One Escarpment, one Axis. Coitus interruptus. A strange dream. And a strange shift of POV in the last paragraph.

Royce is so traumatized by Grace’s mother walking in on their inaugural shtupp that he changes his field of study from philosophy to rocks, and never marries? And 50 years later he is still bitter about women looking for regret in him.

I see a lot of symmetry in this – Royce hitchhikes and explains to the truck driver his lack of a car and first sees the Niagara Escarpment which changes his life’s work, then later takes the train and again explains himself as wanting to see the Frontenac Axis. He sees Avie unexpectedly on both trips. Both halves end with bitterness towards Grace’s mother, which baffles me; it’s one of those things, but it enrages him. He treats Grace and her family rather poorly, ignoring her after her mother walks in on them, and treats Avie the same way when he sees her later. Symmetry is part of some definitions of an axis.

Much is unexplained. Grace disappears from the story – why? What happens to her? She drops out of college due to health issues, writes Avie a letter and gets no reply, is she the daughter who is locked in the basement unheard, and Avie the daughter who says “Nothing to be done”? Would Royce have been just as big a boor with Avie as he was with Grace if he’d taken that route? Royce is pretty self-centered; is he his own axis?

An intriguing story, engrossing reading. I’ve always felt Alice Munro was a little tedious but this moved right along.

Addendum: This story appears in BASS 2012. In reading my notes, I find it hilarious that I was still impatient with Alice Munro at the time I read this. I’ve learned a lot since then: “Corrie” and “Amundson” are among my favorite stories (and “Dolly” wasn’t half bad), and I hope to see them represented in 2013 prize anthologies. I’m going to have to stop ragging on Alice Munro. Retroactive apologies.

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3 responses to “Alice Munro: “Axis” from The New Yorker, 1/31/2011

  1. Pingback: Fun with Search Terms! « A Just Recompense

  2. The missing pieces bothered me . . . Did you read “Pride,” her new story in this month’s Harper’s Magazine? Also a disappointment to me – she seems to be in a little slump!

    • oops, I answered this in another post. To summarize – I read Alice Munro because she’s a “good” writer, not because I particularly love her stories. I photocopied “Pride” just today and will let you know when I read it!

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