The love of a good woman : stories /
by Alice Munro.
imprint
Toronto : M&S, c1998.
description
339 p.
ISBN
0771066856 :
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
series title
imprint
Toronto : M&S, c1998.
isbn
0771066856 :
catalogue key
2186520
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Canada Reads, CAN, 2004 : Nominated
Giller Prize, CAN, 1998 : Won
Trillium Book Award, CAN, 1998 : Won
First Chapter
Kath and Sonje have a place of their own on the beach, behind  some large logs. They have chosen this not only for shelter from the  occasional sharp wind--they've got Kath's baby with them--but  because they want to be out of sight of a group of women who use  the beach every day. They call these women the Monicas.

The Monicas have two or three or four children apiece. They  are all under the leadership of the real Monica, who walked down  the beach and introduced herself when she first spotted Kath and  Sonje and the baby. She invited them to join the gang.

They followed her, lugging the carry-cot between them. What  else could they do? But since then they lurk behind the logs.

The Monicas' encampment is made up of beach umbrellas,  towels, diaper bags, picnic hampers, inflatable rafts and whales,  toys, lotions, extra clothing, sun hats, Thermos bottles of coffee,  paper cups and plates, and Thermos tubs in which they carry  homemade fruit-juice Popsicles.

They are either frankly pregnant or look as if they might  be pregnant, because they have lost their figures. They  trudge down to the water's edge, hollering out the  names of their children who are riding and falling off logs or the  inflatable whales.

"Where's your hat? Where's your ball? You've been on that  thing long enough now, let Sandy have a turn."

Even when they talk to each other their voices have to be raised  high, over the shouts and squalls of their children.

"You can get ground round as cheap as hamburger if you go to  Woodward's."

"I tried zinc ointment but it didn't work."

"Now he's got an abscess in the groin."

"You can't use baking powder, you have to use soda."

These women aren't so much older than Kath and Sonje. But  they've reached a stage in life that Kath and Sonje dread. They turn  the whole beach into a platform. Their burdens, their strung-out  progeny and maternal poundage, their authority, can annihilate the  bright water, the perfect small cove with the red-limbed arbutus  trees, the cedars, growing crookedly out of the high rocks. Kath  feels their threat particularly, since she's a mother now herself.  When she nurses her baby she often reads a book, sometimes  smokes a cigarette, so as not to sink into a sludge of animal  function. And she's nursing so that she can shrink her uterus and  flatten her stomach, not just provide the baby--Noelle--with  precious maternal antibodies.

Kath and Sonje have their own Thermos of coffee and their  extra towels, with which they've rigged up a shelter for Noelle.  They have their cigarettes and their books. Sonje has a book  by Howard Fast. Her husband has told her that if she has to read  fiction that's who she should be reading. Kath is reading the short  stories of Katherine Mansfield and the short stories of D. H. Lawrence.  Sonje has got into the habit of putting down her own book and picking  up whichever book of Kath's that Kath is not reading at the moment.  She limits herself to one story and then goes back to Howard Fast.

When they get hungry one of them makes the trek up a long  flight of wooden steps. Houses ring this cove, up on the rocks  under the pine and cedar trees. They are all former summer  cottages, from the days before the Lions Gate Bridge was built,  when people from Vancouver would come across the water for  their vacations. Some cottages--like Kath's and Sonje's--are still  quite primitive and cheap to rent. Others, like the real Monica's,  are much improved. But nobody intends to stay here; everybody's  planning to move on to a proper house. Except for Sonje and her  husband, whose plans seem more mysterious than anybody else's.

There is an unpaved crescent road serving the houses, and  joined at either end to Marine Drive. The enclosed semicircle is full  of tall trees and an undergrowth of ferns and salmonberry bushes,  and various intersecting paths, by which you can take a shortcut  out to the store on Marine Drive. At the store Kath and Sonje will  buy takeout French fries for lunch. More often it's Kath who  makes this expedition, because it's a treat for her to walk under the  trees--something she can't do anymore with the baby carriage.  When she first came here to live, before Noelle was born, she  would cut through the trees nearly every day, never thinking of her  freedom. One day she met Sonje. They had both worked at the  Vancouver Public Library a little while before this, though they had  not been in the same department and had never talked to each  other. Kath had quit in the sixth month of pregnancy as you were  required to do, lest the sight of you should disturb the patrons, and  Sonje had quit because of a scandal.

Or, at least, because of a story that had got into the newspapers.  Her husband, Cottar, who was a journalist working for a magazine  that Kath had never heard of, had made a trip to Red China.  He was referred to in the paper as a left-wing writer. Sonje's picture  appeared beside his, along with the information that she worked in the library. There was concern that in her job she might be promoting  Communist books and influencing children who used the library, so  that they might become Communists. Nobody said that she had done  this--just that it was a danger. Nor was it against the law for somebody  from Canada to visit China. But it turned out that Cottar and Sonje were  both Americans, which made their behavior more alarming, perhaps  more purposeful.

"I know that girl," Kath had said to her husband, Kent, when  she saw Sonje's picture. "At least I know her to see her. She  always seems kind of shy. She'll be embarrassed about this."

"No she won't," said Kent. "Those types love to feel  persecuted, it's what they live for."

The head librarian was reported as saying that Sonje had  nothing to do with choosing books or influencing young  people--she spent most of her time typing out lists.

"Which was funny," Sonje said to Kath, after they had  recognized each other, and spoken and spent about half an hour  talking on the path. The funny thing was that she did not know how  to type.

She wasn't fired, but she had quit anyway. She thought she  might as well, because she and Cottar had some changes  coming up in their future.

Kath wondered if one change might be a baby. It seemed to her  that life went on, after you finished school, as a series of further  examinations to be passed. The first one was getting married. If  you hadn't done that by the time you were twenty-five, that  examination had to all intents and purposes been failed. (She  always signed her name "Mrs. Kent Mayberry" with a sense of  relief and mild elation.) Then you thought about having the first  baby. Waiting a year before you got pregnant was a good idea.  Waiting two years was a little more prudent than necessary. And  three years started people wondering. Then down the road  somewhere was the second baby. After that the progression got  dimmer and it was hard to be sure just when you had arrived at  wherever it was you were going.


Sonje was not the sort of friend who would tell you that she was trying to have a baby and how long she'd been trying and what techniques she was using. She never talked about sex in that way, or about her periods or any behavior of her body--though she soon told Kath things that most people would consider much more shocking. She had a graceful dignity--she had wanted to be a ballet dancer until she got too tall, and she didn't stop regretting that until she met Cottar, who said, "Oh, another little bourgeois girl hoping she'll turn into a dying swan." Her face was broad, calm, pink skinned--she never wore any makeup, Cottar was against makeup--and her thick fair hair was pinned up in a bushy chignon. Kath thought she was wonderful looking--both seraphic and intelligent.

Eating their French fries on the beach, Kath and Sonje discuss characters in the stories they've been reading. How is it that no woman could love Stanley Burnell? What is it about Stanley? He is such a boy, with his pushy love, his greed at the table, his self-satisfaction. Whereas Jonathan Trout--oh, Stanley's wife, Linda, should have married Jonathan Trout, Jonathan who glided through the water while Stanley splashed and snorted. "Greetings, my celestial peach blossom," says Jonathan in his velvety bass voice. He is full of irony, he is subtle and weary. "The shortness of life, the shortness of life," he says. And Stanley's brash world crumbles, discredited.

Something bothers Kath. She can't mention it or think about it. Is Kent something like Stanley?

One day they have an argument. Kath and Sonje have an unexpected and disturbing argument about a story by D. H. Lawrence. The story is called "The Fox."

At the end of that story the lovers--a soldier and a woman named March--are sitting on the sea cliffs looking out on the Atlantic, towards their future home in Canada. They are going to leave England, to start a new life. They are committed to each other, but they are not truly happy. Not yet.

The soldier knows that they will not be truly happy until the woman gives her life over to him, in a way that she has not done so far. March is still struggling against him, to hold herself separate from him, she is making them both obscurely miserable by her efforts to hang on to her woman's soul, her woman's mind. She must stop this--she must stop thinking and stop wanting and let her consciousness go under, until it is submerged in his. Like the reeds that wave below the surface of the water. Look down, look down--see how the reeds wave in the water, they are alive but they never break the surface. And that is how her female nature must live within his male nature. Then she will be happy and he will be strong and content. Then they will have achieved a true marriage.

Kath says that she thinks this is stupid.

She begins to make her case. "He's talking about sex, right?"

"Not just," says Sonje. "About their whole life."

"Yes, but sex. Sex leads to getting pregnant. I mean in the normal course of events. So March has a baby. She probably has more than one. And she has to look after them. How can you do that if your mind is waving around under the surface of the sea?"

"That's taking it very literally," says Sonje in a slightly superior tone.

"You can either have thoughts and make decisions or you can't," says Kath. "For instance--the baby is going to pick up a razor blade. What do you do? Do you just say, Oh, I think I'll just float around here till my husband comes home and he can make up his mind, that is our mind, about whether this is a good idea?"

Sonje said, "That's taking it to extremes."

Each of their voices has hardened. Kath is brisk and scornful, Sonje grave and stubborn.

"Lawrence didn't want to have children," Kath says. "He was jealous of the ones Frieda had from being married before."

Sonje is looking down between her knees, letting sand fall through her fingers. "I just think it would be beautiful," she says. "I think it would be beautiful, if a woman could."

Kath knows that something has gone wrong. Something is wrong with her own argument. Why is she so angry and excited? And why did she shift over to talking about babies, about children? Because she has a baby and Sonje doesn't? Did she say that about Lawrence and Frieda because she suspects that it is partly the same story with Cottar and Sonje?

When you make the argument on the basis of the children, about the woman having to look after the children, you're in the clear. You can't be blamed. But when Kath does that she is covering up. She can't stand that part about the reeds and the water, she feels bloated and suffocated with incoherent protest. So it is herself she is thinking of, not of any children. She herself is the very woman that Lawrence is railing about. And she can't reveal that straight out because it might make Sonje suspect--it might make Kath herself suspect--an impoverishment in Kath's life.

Sonje who has said, during another alarming conversation, "My happiness depends on Cottar."

My happiness depends on Cottar.

That statement shook Kath. She would never have said it about Kent. She didn't want it to be true of herself.

But she didn't want Sonje to think that she was a woman who had missed out on love. Who had not considered, who had not been offered, the prostration of love.
Reviews
This item was reviewed in:
Quill & Quire, September 1998
Wall Street Journal, October 1998
Chicago Tribune, November 1998
New York Times Book Review, November 1998
San Francisco Chronicle, November 1998
Washington Post, November 1998
Globe & Mail, October 1999
New York Times Book Review, October 1999
USA Today, December 1999
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Table of Contents
The Love of a Good Womanp. 3
Jakartap. 79
Cortes Islandp. 117
Save the Reaperp. 146
The Children Stayp. 181
Rich As Stinkp. 215
Before the Changep. 254
My Mother's Dreamp. 293
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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