“Axis” by Alice Munro
Card picked: 2♠ – WILD Card!
Found at: The New Yorker
I had originally picked a different story for this week’s Wild Card, but I decided to keep with the suit’s literary/classics theme instead. After a little thought, I decided to try an author that I’ve heard a lot about from fellow Deal Me In participants (and from Short Story Magic Tricks), but whom I’d never read before. I chose Alice Munro and her story “Axis.”
The story is about three characters—Grace, Avie, and Royce—and shifts between their POVs. Grace and Avie were friends, or at least classmates, in college. Both are farm girls, at the university on scholarship to study history. While they look down on the girls at the Secretarial School, who only seem to be at the university to wed boys at the Business School, they are looking to marry intellectuals themselves. Avie seems to be free spirit of the two. She has had sex with Hugo, her sort-of boyfriend. Hugo is more interested in Avie than she is in him. Avie is in fact more interested in Royce, Grace’s boyfriend. The pre-marital sex leads to several pregnancy scares which in turn leads to Avie having a dream about having two daughters, one of which cries all the time and is shut away in a basement. The dream upsets Grace more than Avie.
Over the summer, Royce visits Grace at her parent’s farm. On his way he sees Avie in a town he passes through. While he hasn’t given a thought to her before, he is taken by how happy she looks. He considers getting off the bus, but continues on. A WWII vet and a philosophy almost-graduate, he gets a taste of farm life at Grace’s. Royce doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He’s quit college and is working as a taxi driver. Philosophy isn’t working out for him. For a moment he thinks that farming might be nice, taking over Grace’s family farm after they’re married. Grace decides to give in to sex during his visit, but the two are interrupted during the act. Fed up, Royce leaves. While hitchhiking back, he sees the Niagara Escarpment which sparks a life-long interest in geology. He goes against what is expected of him and goes back to school.
Fifty years later, Royce sees Avie on a train. Avie married Hugo, had six daughters, and was contented. She’s now widowed and is again a bit at odds with life. Royce never married but had has a fulfilling career. Grace, like the daughter in the basement of Avie’s dream, has been more or less forgotten, lost track of once all three had quit school. For a moment, it seems that Avie and Royce might have a second chance at life together in their old age, but Avie brings up Grace and Royce clams up once again.
Two daughters in the dream; one difficult and forgotten, one pleasant and given a good life. Two female characters: Grace who strings Royce along and Avie who pretty much goes with the flow. Definitely some parallels there. And then there’s Royce, who is maybe(?) the axis, affecting one of the women’s lives and being affected by the other. It’s a story that moves effortlessly.
Nobel winner, Man Booker winner. It’s amazing that I haven’t read any of Alice Munro’s stories until now. Okay, maybe not since I read a lot of genre fiction and a lot of pre-1920s short stories, but still! I’m sure that “The Axis” won’t be the last.