Sunday, November 17, 2013

Doris Lessing

I just read The Roads of London two days ago, this is shocking - RIP Doris Lessing. Another Nobel Laureate to leave, but her voice and pen's work will remain.

"Time," says Nora bitterly. "Will you come by ever again?"

The tiny share we have of time appalls me, though my father seems to regard it with tranquility. Even my father, who sometimes seems to me to have been at home in the world as long as it has lasted, has really lived on this earth only a little longer than I have, in terms of all the time there has been to live in. He has not known a time, any more than I, when automobiles and electric lights did not at least exist. He was not alive when this century started. I will be barely alive — old, old – when it ends. I do not like to think of it. I wish the Lake to be always just a lake, with the safe-swimming floats marking it, and the breakwater and the lights of Tuppertown.

I originally planned to read J. M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians but settled for the work of another Nobel laureate instead - Alice Munro's Selected Stories. I did this for two reasons - the first being that I won't be able to take my time with the former (school life is throwing assessments my way), and the second being I haven't read short stories in ages. Why not Munro, whose collections I've often glimpsed on bookshelves but never read?

I've just read the first story (twice), Walker Brothers Cowboy. A sense of leaving permeates the opening  lines as our narrator and her father (Ben) make their way down a "long, shabby sort of street" towards the Lake, leaving her mother and brother at home, one "sewing under the dining-room light" and one "in bed [ a] little screened porch."  

They are in "Tuppertown, an old town on [...] an old grain port," where tramps hang around the docks bordering "ancient, rusty, wallowing" grain boats. Such decrepit, decaying imagery works with the feeling of 'letting go' to unfold the enigma of a crack-of-dawn sentiment, harking back to a bygone time. And the past indeed trails behind the characters throughout the story, even presenting itself in front of them when Ben takes his children - our narrator and her brother - to visit Nora (a woman of his past) and her blind mother, taking a detour from his regular salesman trip as the 'Walker Brothers Man.'

It is clear from Nora's cheerful yet aggressive tone that news of Ben's marriage and job as the Walker Brothers Man is a long leap from who he was in their shared past, and as Nora drinks whisky and urgest Ben to dance she attempts to rekindle their history. Nora "whirls [...our narrator] around in" a dance, dragging her too into that enigmatic past. 

Although our narrator initially regarded the trip with a childish "rising hope of adventure," she is offered a glimpse of her father's youth and at the end -unlike her innocuous brother- cannot shake off an acute awareness of the gone yet ever 'present' past.   

As Updike wrote in the NY Times Book Review - "Munro is an implacable destiny spinner, whose authorial voice breaks into her fiction like that of a God who can no longer bear to keep quiet." Indeed. I look forward to reading and rereading the next 27 stories in this anthology. 

I pretend to remember far less than I do, wary of being trapped into sympathy or any unwanted emotion.
So my father drives and my brother watches the road for rabbits and I feel my father’s life flowing back from our car in the last of the afternoon, darkening and turning strange, like a landscape that has an enchantment on it, making it kindly, ordinary and familiar while you are looking at it, but changing it, once your back is turned, into something you will never know, with all kinds of weathers, and distances you cannot imagine.