Three Encounters with Alice Munro
1. Walker Brothers Cowgirl
“Walker Brothers Cowboy” is the first story in Alice Munro’s first book, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), the first of her stories I read. This would have been in my late teens, a few years after the book’s publication by McGraw-Hill Ryerson. It’s a father-daughter story tracing a growing awareness, for girl-narrator and reader, of a long-ago romantic relationship of the father’s. The unnamed daughter (likely a first appearance of Del Jordan from 1971’s Lives of Girls and Women) senses the depths of her father’s involved past, and by story’s close she has undergone initiation into a more mature awareness. The perfectly paced events climactically reify that distinctive, because cool and precise, Munrovian pathos that fathoms the unfathomable lives of girls and women, resisting buoyant hopefulness. The first-time reader felt plunged into what Irving Layton calls “the cold green element” of literary art.
Critics write of this story as predicting Munro’s deepening engagement with the trickery and mysteries of memory and time, with the apparent impossibility of apprehending the singular truth of a life, with provisionality, with the indeterminacy of meaning, and such. But these abstractions are not what first impresses the reader, or at least not this young reader living in the same neck of the lake, Lake Huron (where it empties into the St. Clair River). No, it was daughter and father sitting contemplatively on a park bench that’s missing one of its back slats and listening...
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