Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cloudy Windows

In the Winter 2007 issue of Tin House, Anthony Doerr wrote a wonderful essay about Alice Munro’s stories entitled “We Are Mapmakers.” (I even enjoyed the description of the essay as “a writer charts his own course through Alice Munro.”) Parallel to his reading of Munro’s fiction, Doerr takes the reader on a trip through his own past. We begin with him as a twenty-two year old, camping on Great Barrier Island off the coast of New Zealand, reading his first Munro story by flashlight in wind and rain. After finishing the story, moved, Doerr falls into a dreamlike trance. When he wakes, “the rain has stopped. I unzip the tent door. The stars are violently bright, electric-blue. The Milky Way is stretched south to north. Orion is upside down.” Later he says that Munro’s stories “cracked open my understanding of what a short-story writer can do with memory and time.”

Doerr feels strongly that stories become a part of the reader, their fiction blending with reality. He says, “I think we build the stories we love into ourselves. I think we digest stories.” Doerr found that Munro’s stories expanded and worked on many deeper levels. The surface aspect “swerved, it inflated: it became about memory and imagination, the urge to know scraping against the inability to know for certain. We peer at the past through cloudy windows; we see shapes, figures. How much is real? And how much is merely threads, tombstones, conjectures?”

I agree. Our individual worlds are hybrids of what we observe and sense, our memories, and our dreams. What we read also takes root inside of us, becomes part of our personal history, like other lives we’ve experienced. As Doerr notes, “A good story flashes around inside, endlessly reflecting.” At the end of the essay he concludes that “… the fictions of a few writers are stamped like rivers into the landscapes, flashing and strong, deep through the channels, with countless forks and filigrees and branches. Alice Munro’s river is one of the brightest.”

The photograph (granted, not a great one, but a match to the topic) was taken in Rhinebeck, NY, on October 7, 2008. Those eerie descending figures / religious statues were much more fascinating and evocative in reality.

6 comments:

Vesper de Vil said...

For these reasons I will write for the rest of my life.

Christine said...

And read! Thanks for your thought and commitment to your art.

Pam Hart said...

i like your rainy windows...

Christine said...

Thanks, Pam -- the real ones are totally soaked!

Spot said...

I've come back to read this post several times - it has hung around with me all week in beautiful ways, summing up so much about the threads that flow through not just my writing, but all my creative work. I just love all the references to landscape.

Christine said...

I'm glad it gave you something to ponder! If you haven't read any of Doerr's work, try The Shell Collector, a collection of short stories. Thanks for reading!