Short stories are not my forte. I typically avoid writing them as much as I do reading them. To be fair though, writing a short is a difficult endeavor, arguably more so than composing a novel due to tighter constraints. There is no room for flaws. A novel may forgive, a short story does not and often times they land on the reader’s figurative ear as dry or obnoxiously abstract. To write a ‘good’ short story, one that has momentum as well as emotional vulnerability, complex intellect, and a keen awareness and fluidity, is a feat. Alice Munro surpasses in this task.
One of the greatest short story writers of the last century, Munro executes with a tact and precision that are not only admirable, but also not lacking in artistic juices. She is a master of revelation, resolution, and crafts characters of limitless expansion. They deliver shock and draw endearment. Munro’s innate understanding and ability to construct a time and people with painful clarity, is a skill shared with authors such as E.M. Forster and Anton Chekhov.
“Carried Away” is an example of perfection. It is a highlight in Munro’s cannon as well as twentieth century fiction. It is within memory that the tiniest moments in life are blown out to be given intent of unpardonable significance and we become carried away on the sweeping influences of perception and the proclamations of foreign bodies. Munro begins with Louisa reading letters from a soldier in the small Canadian town of Carstairs during World War I. A librarian and an outsider, living in the Commercial Hotel after running from a tragic love affair, Louisa finds herself to have an admirer in the letters of a young soldier who has kept himself a secret from her before going overseas. She is swept away by Jack Agnew’s affection, only to discover that he is engaged and married after his return. He never approaches her and she finds herself haunted by the featureless face of a lover that she has never seen. We follow her life as she is carried away on the tidal wave of ebbing emotion, moving from man to man as life continues.
Louisa is a stunning portrayal of a woman’s bereaved psyche, encapsulating patterns of standard experience and recovery, while co-existing in her individual oddity. Munro manages to develop a woman who is at once a type and a person, mirroring reality with sensational elasticity. The men whom she encounters romantically are merely stories within her journey, moments and chapters that serve as transitional encounters, reversing the gender roles of the mythical hero’s quest. Munro leaves Louisa’s final encounter with Jack Agnew open to speculation. The message of the piece becomes concrete is his questionable appearance, just as the haunting of the subconscious is self-affirmed. Ending at the beginning, the reader is left with a sense of unhinged mystery and the unsettling prospects of the past. The ambiguity is just as thought provoking as the specificity.