Happy New Year everyone! To celebrate here at Mirror With Clouds, I am starting my 2016 Annual Featured Author: The Alice Munro Story of the Month. I’m jumping into this with very little knowledge of Munro and never having read any of her work. I am aware that she was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2013 so I’m thinking there is probably something about her work that will make it worth reading twelve times this year.
For January, I read Munro’s “Axis” included in the 2012 edition of The Best American Short Stories. If all of her stories are like this one, I have no worries about reading Munro’s work on a regular basis for the next year.
“Axis” revolves (and I guess that’s the best word to use) around Avie, Grace, Royce and Hugo – although Hugo is only mentioned by the others and never has any real page time. The story of these characters spans from college to old age and Munro skillfully moves from varying points of view.
While the female characters are the focal points, the reader gets to find out what goes on in Royce’s head, also. When he finally gets old-fashioned Grace “alone” in her parents’ farm house, the hilarious scene that plays out makes me despise and feel sorry for the guy simultaneously.
This story brilliantly contains what other authors would have to include in a novel. In a mere 15 pages, Munro gives us an entire story with real characters that we know in depth by the conclusion.
The title of the story comes from a scene in which Royce, decades after becoming a geologist, shows Avie the Frontenac Axis:
When the train starts up again, he explains that all around them are great slabs of limestone packed in order, one on top of the other, like a grand construction. But in one spot this gives way, he says, and you can see something else. It’s what is know as the Frontenac Axis. It is nothing less than an eruption of the vast and crazy old Canadian Shield, all the ancient combustion cutting through the limestone, pouring over, messing up those giant steps.
Yes, life occasionally messes up the “giant steps” of Munro’s characters in this story; however, the story itself is a “grand construction”.
For an interesting look at the concept of Chekhov’s Gun in this story, check out the excellent post by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.