Paying heed to the tense

Slowly steaming through Alice Munro’s collected works. So many of her stories could so easily be worked up into novels, but writers of her sort seem to find it difficult or unproductive. Peter Taylor inflated Cousin Aubrey into a novel called In The Tennessee Country, surely a masterpiece no less impressive than his late one, A Summons To Memphis. There are certainly Munro stories with lots of detail in a relatively short space, and I’ve seen criticisms of her unwillingness to admit that the longer ones could be considered still-born novels, a harsh judgement. She keeps you attentive. Those spliced chronologies can, in some case, be mystifying. I’m thinking of Wenlock Edge, from the 2003 collection Too Much Happiness; the coda needs a couple of readings before it makes sense, but you only have to pay heed to the tenses.

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