“Amundsen”-The Alice Munro Story of the Month: November

The building, the trees, the lake, could never again be the same to me as they were on that first day, when I was caught by their mystery and authority. On that day I had believed myself invisible. Now it seemed as if that was never true.

There’s the teacher. What’s she up to?

She’s looking at the lake.

What for?

Nothing better to do.

Some people are lucky.

Alice Munro’s story “Amundsen” reminds me some of her story “The Turkey Season” – at least in tone, feel and atmosphere if not in plot.

The unnamed female narrator arrives at a sanatorium (or San) outside the town of Amundsen (in Canada) to live there as a teacher for the children suffering from tuberculosis. I am not certain of the timeframe of the story but it’s during the last year of “the war”. I’m going to guess that this is a reference to World War II and the setting is the 1940’s.

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She arrives sometime in winter in awe of the frozen lake and woods surrounding the “San.” Like “The Turkey Season”, a coldness prevails throughout the story with significant attention paid to the snow, the temperature of the school room, when a heater is needed and when one isn’t available. Unlike “The Turkey Season”, which contains some warmth hidden beneath the layer of cold, “Amundsen” remains cold in tone and atmosphere until the end even when spring bursts forth.

Most of this coldness stems from the teacher’s relationship with the doctor of the San who has hired her. He leaves her at the train station in the “lady’s waiting room” with a lack of warmth that transcends any physical temperature.

This story is included in Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995 – 2015 which I borrowed from my public library.

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