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Also available for free in at The New Yorker. It prints out to 14 pages.
Length: 14 pages
Genre: Short Story, Canadian Lit
Start date: Aug. 17, 2010
Finished date: Aug. 20, 2010
Where from: The New Yorker
Why Read: I thought the film was lovely and was interested in reading the story.
Summary: A retired professor reflects on the effects of memory loss on his wife of many decades who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and how their relationship changes when she enters a nursing home.
Great Quotation: "Do you think it would be fun if we got married?"
I must admit that this short story sat unread on my catch-all table (not even on my nightstand with other TBR books) for a few years before a spring cleaning job reintroduced me to it. Every time I spotted it peeking out from under other miscellaneous papers, it reminded me of the stark snow-covered ski hills in Sarah Polley's beautifully filmed adaptation and nearly enticed me to read it every time. Once I cleared off the clutter, it was free to be read.
I had previously read Alice Munro's Who Do You Think You Are? in university and while I found her writing to be admirable and her word choice unique in a tone that only she could create, her characters struck me as rather unemotional and stiff. I could not sympathize or even relate to the cardboard cutouts I imagined them being in my head. This story improves on that.
The Bear Came Over the Mountain is an odd title for the story, and I would be interested in knowing what the inspiration was for it, as well as a metaphorical connection I am not catching on to. Polley's adapted film title works off the beautiful quotation of the storyteller, Grant: "I wanted never to be away from her," which thankfully appears at the end of the first paragraph, enticing me to continue and changing my mind about Munro's character development.
Grant and Fiona are a love match that is reversed by the sad condition of her memories as Alzheimer's disease forces them apart. As Fiona moves into a nursing home, away from the house and husband she once knew, she forms a companionate relationship with a considerably weakened resident, Aubrey. I found it remarkable that the feelings Fiona once showed Grant are remembered but transferred to another man, whom she may be mistaking for her husband. This circumstance is obviously distressing to Grant, who decides to seek consolation from a similar viewpoint: Aubrey's wife, Marian.
Short stories are often one of two things: underdeveloped because of its limited length or developed more acutely because the author is aware of the limited space in which to write. Munro's story is the latter and she gives a sense of dignified grace to the four characters without embellishing the emotions that come with the harsh changes occuring in their intertwined lives. It is ironic that often emotion comes naturally when it is not presented so obviously. Maybe this is what I expected of Munro's other work and felt cheated out of being told what the character is feeling.
Munro's style may feel bland to those expecting a rich tapestry of description, but this is not the point of her work. I recommend previewing Polley's film before reading this story, as having the gorgeous backgrounds of the Canadian winter landscape in mind while reading makes it come alive.
Overall, I still feel that Munro sometimes writes description rather stiffly, but minimally, so she can reflect on how the appearance of surroundings and the perception of events changes a character psychologically, a strength that comes forth in this story necessarily as the relationship between Grant & Fiona is at once weakened by her memory loss but strengthened by her sporadic recollection of beautiful moments they have shared.
Ranking this story is tough, because I feel that simply "recommending" it is a cop-out, but then again, it is not the most life-changing work I've read, so I'm just going to write that you should read it and try not to pass it up, even if it gets buried under a four year mountain of other things to do.
Rank: (B)- Recommend