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Old 03-04-2014, 10:10 AM View Post #11 (Link)
Spacepirate (Offline)
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So much to say.
The way Maury takes their future marriage for granted, and the way he won't have sex with her so that she remains his "ideal girl" are both informed by the Liz Taylor movie and her reaction to it. In one of the discussion questions you mention that Munro has said she doesn't write feminist fiction. I think this is feminist fiction, in a way. It's not overtly political, and it might not label itself as feminist. But any fiction that shows women as real people, that takes into account the complexity of women's selves and relationships and lives -- that feels feminist to me, and right to me.
Interesting and I would agree definitely. Maury I guess is a difficult character in a number ways because he is not dislikable immediately. He wants what's best for Grace, and has this romantic notion for their life together. Nevertheless the romantic ideals seem to be based on this power dynamic where Maury idolises her; he wants her to be the Elizabeth Taylor characters. Even to the end, through the letter, he is trying to push his voice through hers.

The more I look over the story, the more I get the sense of the importance of fictionality. I think ideas of artifice, of narrative and reading, like the feminist undertones are not overt but working in the background.
Grace's desire, which seems pretty evident to me in the first paragraph, is contrasted by her coldness, which I have to take at face value here - I don't see it. I think it's only realized in the second half of the story, when she goes off with Neil. Maybe it's that her desire makes her cold, that she desires a thing or an experience and not Maury, as a person? I wonder when her hesitance to marry Maury becomes actual refusal. Is it before Thanksgiving? Or is it when she bounces from the hospital with Neil?
I absolutely love the last line, the image of Maury 'rearranging his impressions of Grace.' The coldness is curious, is contrasted with even the title of the story. There's a kind of archaic stifling in these characters. 'Pleasurable physical intimacies followed', is such an awkward turn of words, that I think it must reflect Grace's state of mind; not that she thinks sex is awkward, but the opposite, that to her it becomes rote, is just another asset. Therein I think lies that difference between Maury and Grace: Maury wants to idolise every part of Grace, including her 'sex'. To her the act of sex should emphasise his masculinity, his ability to protect, whereas Grace uses it 'coldly', which throughout the story has been likened, IMO, to truthfulness.

Was she ever going to marry Maury? I guess we need to take the story with a hint of salt, what with it being in hindsight. In hindsight the narrator seems to have this ambivalent feeling to marriage, she knows it's a thing that might happen, and she half-heartedly has ideas of running away. There's a quote where she says, after visiting the bootleggers:

'How strange that she'd thought of becoming one of the--a Travers. Marrying Maury. A kind of treachery, it would be. But not a treachery to be riding with Neil, because he wasn't fortunate--he knew some of the things that she did.'
I think the scene where Neil teaches Grace to drive is really important. I think that's the story beneath the story, what's really going on. Neil gives Grace an out, an escape from what she thought she wanted and then discovered that she didn't. But he also gives her something practical - the ability to drive a car, plus maybe the ability to determine the direction of her own life. Your first question suggests that the scene by the river is the story beneath the story, but I think the car is more important. The scene by the river is her insight into Neil, why he drinks, who he is. And that scene is one of the turning points of the story, similar to the gate closing behind her as she and Neil duck out of the ER and go off on their pilgrimage. Her realization, her abandoning the promise of passion for some deeper insight, might be what (aside from needing a place to sleep for the night) allows her to get in the car and drive them both back to Bailey's Falls.
My only qualm with the driving scene is it still paints the normative role of male/female power. Like throughout that scene Neil is still being domineering, and there's a creepy turn of phrase when Grace asks him when she can stop to which he responds, 'Not till I tell you how'. It's the power dynamic I dislike because it's reinforcing, not, I think, liberating. Later he tells her that teaching her to drive 'calms him down' - he's using her. Although I guess her driving home is a statement and she feels panicked driving back to the inn.

(I must say I also disagree with how both you and Raconteur perceive the river scene. I think it's the 'epiphany' scene, the crux of the story. :p)
I really liked this story. I don't read stuff like this often - most of my reading is poetry and scientific papers. Now that I've spent the evening thinking about this story I'm really excited to discuss it - I'm sure you guys have different views on these things, or connected with the story in a different way. Giving readers something exciting to discuss is the mark of a good story definitely (maybe a great one? I'm not in a place to decide). Spacepirate, have you read other short stories from the collection this was published in? Has anybody? I'm thinking about locating it at the library - I'd like to read more.
I have read the other stories in the collection; they follow a similar pattern of 'lost' characters discovering something. I think at least three of the stories follow the same character, loosely. They are great stories to read and with regards to characterisation, she builds them with such subtlety you cannot help but feel as if you've been blow away by the tiniest gust of wind. It's very rare, for me, to read such female-orientated fiction - not out of choice, but that's just unfortunately how things turn out - but I love it. Definite recommendation for Runaway.
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Old 03-04-2014, 10:23 AM View Post #12 (Link)
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For people who might forget what scene we're talking about, the scene by the river in a town called Fortune. Grace gets out of the car and walks over to the river:
Some dust had settled on her, with all the stopping and starting of her driving lesson. She got out and washed her hands and her face as well as she could, at an outdoor tap. Then, favoring her cut foot, she walked slowly to the edge of the river, saw how shallow it was, with reeds breaking the surface. A sign there warned that profanity, obscenity, or vulgar language was forbidden in this place and would be punished.

She tried the swings, which faced west. Pumping herself high, she looked into the clear sky—faint green, fading gold, a fierce pink rim at the horizon. Already the air was getting cold.

She had thought that it was touch. Mouths, tongues, skin, bodies, banging bone on bone. Inflammation. Passion. But that wasn’t what she’d been working toward at all. She had seen deeper, deeper into him than she could ever have managed if they’d gone that way.

What she saw was final. As if she were at the edge of a flat dark body of water that stretched on and on. Cold, level water. Looking out at such dark, cold, level water, and knowing that it was all there was.

It wasn’t the drinking that was responsible. Drinking, needing to drink—that was just some sort of distraction, like everything else, from the thing that was waiting, no matter what, all the time.
Heh, I could totally be wrong about the importance of this scene - but to me it marks the focal point of how Grace comes to understand the things around her. She starts to realise what drives people, and how they work; she redefines the notions of 'passion' and 'sex', and so her own gender role, in what you describe as a 'deeper connection'. And at the same time even the way she narrates become broken, frantic, impassioned. And it's here that I think she gets a sense that life is rotten, that it is not the fairytale that Maury (and other men in her life) have perpetuated, but rather life can be more sinister, dangerous.

It's interesting that she isn't actually by the river - though we call it the 'lake/river scene - and that she imagines up this great expanse of water. There's something pessimistic, meaningless?, in the water that is so absorbing; it represents her life? All the emotions, the passion, the urge to destruction and drink, comes from this lake that was 'waiting' and I guess that to me seemed very nihilistic. I think it's this scene that makes Grace able to drive the car back home.

----

Also, if you type in 'Alice Munro Passion' into google, we're on Page 3 of the results (!) Much excitement.
  
						Last edited by Spacepirate; 03-04-2014 at 10:27 AM.
					
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Old 03-04-2014, 03:01 PM View Post #13 (Link)
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I think though, to call that the "crux" of the story is a little boring, which may be why I'm so against it. There are too many more interesting things happening. Like I mentioned before, the language is suddenly more meditative and we gain an insight to Grace, but I don't know if that should automatically mean that Grace has gained insight of the same magnitude. She has gained an understanding in what I'm quoting below, I suppose, but for me, this:

"What she saw was final. As if she were at the edge of a flat dark body of water that stretched on and on. Cold, level water. Looking out at such dark, cold, level water, and knowing that it was all there was."

does not encompass nearly half of what I feel like I was introduced to in the beginning. But I will concede that it does, even in its bare construction, come off as epiphany. I don't know why I feel such compulsion toward Mrs. Travers, in fact. Like she is the one we should be focusing on. I feel we abandon her. Does she really only serve as a parallel, or even foil? And perhaps that was what I waited for--some final nod toward her character. "Passion" is the name of the story, I know, but how could the great revelation of this story be only about intimate passion? In the sense that: why should that be the only thing to drive her toward meaningless? I suppose in reading it in an isolated way, from that quote, I can see how in its construction, it would serve that purpose. But I do think there are tensions continuously: a kind of doing and undoing. A defining and redefining. Perhaps there are several small revelations along the way--more subtly--because I do, by the end of this story, feel satisfied without knowing what engaged me. But never felt particularly satisfied with that scene.
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Old 03-06-2014, 06:58 PM View Post #14 (Link)
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Originally Posted by Raconteur View Post
I don't know why I feel such compulsion toward Mrs. Travers, in fact. Like she is the one we should be focusing on. I feel we abandon her. Does she really only serve as a parallel, or even foil? And perhaps that was what I waited for--some final nod toward her character. "Passion" is the name of the story, I know, but how could the great revelation of this story be only about intimate passion? In the sense that: why should that be the only thing to drive her toward meaningless? I suppose in reading it in an isolated way, from that quote, I can see how in its construction, it would serve that purpose. But I do think there are tensions continuously: a kind of doing and undoing. A defining and redefining. Perhaps there are several small revelations along the way--more subtly--because I do, by the end of this story, feel satisfied without knowing what engaged me. But never felt particularly satisfied with that scene.
I mean we can have multiple interpretations of the story, and they can co-exist. I feel like that section though does however connect to the story at large: she imagines this dark river, and within that she is trying to discover the reason why Neil drinks, this reason I think underpins the unexplainably attractive quality he has for her, i.e. the 'passion' of the title.

To me the story meditates on the search for meaning, and on whether it matters, whether the journey to finding meaning is more or less important than the answer itself. So for me it does link back to the start, where we see her travelling across the roads. I'm fascinated by this black hole that she has in her life, that we as the reader aren't allowed to glimpse into. There is a disconnection in that gap, but equally the story bridges that divide seamlessly.

Your strong feelings towards Mrs Travers is interesting … She is a curious character, but I wouldn't say we, as readers, abandon her. For me she is engulfed by the setting she is stuck in. It's only when we start to be introduced to other male characters that she is over-shadowed, and I wonder if her passivity reflects something in that; whether Munro is trying to say something through her domestic life. The quote, 'Passions get pushed behind the washtubs' stands out to me. I am fascinated by how her character's love for reading, specifically to Anna Karenina, but we never really get her side of the story, only glimpses of insight. We never explore either the struggles that she goes through, although it is implied she suffers from some sort of 'break-down' and is 'taken' by Mr Travers (a la sanatorium in Victorian fictions) away.
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Old 03-06-2014, 07:35 PM View Post #15 (Link)
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woops--didn't mean to be combative. I totally think different interpretations are awesome.

Meaninglessness...

So I'm looking back at the story (and this additional reading is really exciting, and makes me want to write prose) under this lens of meaninglessness and epiphany. And this sticks out to me:

She could not explain or even quite understand that it wasn’t jealousy she felt; it was rage. And not because she couldn’t shop like that or dress like that but because that was what girls were supposed to be like. That was what men—people, everybody—thought they should be like: beautiful, treasured, spoiled, selfish, pea-brained. That was what a girl had to be, to be fallen in love with. Then she’d become a mother and be all mushily devoted to her babies. Not selfish anymore, but just as pea-brained. Forever.
Not because of its conversation with feminism (although that is interesting on a different plane), but because Grace is unable to explain and understand her own emotions. This inability really strikes me. We come back to that notion of agency that popped up earlier, but also, I feel like this inability sets us up for revelations to come later. As does that single worded sentence: Forever.

There is a kind of meaninglessness, redundancy, boredom with "forever" in this section. There is an insecurity here, or at leat a subconscious acknowledgment that Grace does--in some way--map out the listless, "all there is," notion of "forever". It is dormant but unrealised.

Cold, level water. Looking out at such dark, cold, level water, and knowing that it was all there was.
Forever.

That scene has accrued importance for me, in that Grace acknowledges her emotions. Not only so blatantly in coming to a revelation, but because the moment is very insular. That language I mentioned earlier is polarizing and directive: there is a self-awareness that is very interesting. Putting the moments side by side (when her emotions were not understood--whether they were jealousy or rage--versus such awareness about the world) accentuates a journey like you mentioned, makes Neil so extremely vital (not that he ever wasn't), while showing, through juxtaposition between Maury's inability to understand her emotions about the film and Neil's close relativity to Grace's mental position, that those who finally become aware of some kind of "meaningless" or futile self-awareness do not live contently, whereas those characters like Maury, and the business-like Mr. Travers, do.

I do miss Mrs. Travers by the ending: I really did, at the beginning, think that Mrs. Travers was going to play the role that Neil eventually did. But there is something intriguing about the element of attraction, as opposed to passion in only the sense of the mundane versus the passionate, which is the direction it might have taken had Travers been utilized like I hoped for..
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