Thursday, December 6, 2012

Good Short Fiction: A Wilderness Station (by Alice Munro)

Title: A Wilderness Station
Author: Alice Munro
Collection: Selected Stories

All my life I found this a good rule to follow - to get as much pleasure as you could out of things even when you weren't likely to be happy.

A Wilderness Station is an epistolary story that makes you feel like a bird flying over a forest, getting glimpses of people below and what they're doing, while knowing that parts of them will stay concealed. You'll never know the whole story.

Simon Herron, the man who dies (murdered?), is the only major character who doesn't get a voice. We see him through other characters, and we see them through letters and secondhand accounts. At the start of the story you're flying over Canadian wilderness, a frontier just being broken into by settlers. There's Simon and his brother, George, trying to make a life in the woods. They're joined by Simon's wife, Annie McKillop, who was betrothed to Simon via mail.

You might be thinking there's a love triangle, but there isn't. There's death, cruelty, mystery, guilt, and what appears to be insanity. Munro has a gift of letting multiple lives unfold across generations within a single short story. She leaves us to make sense of what we see; like historians armed with some primary documents and with our own imagination and preconceptions we try to understand what happened to these characters, before and after and during a fateful day in the woods.


Other stories in this collection include: Dance of the Happy Shades and Lichen.