Alice Munro, “The Shining Houses” (1968)

alice munro the shining houses

The house across the street. (© Notebooks)

Again: that feeling of having sinned for decades for not having read Alice Munro sooner. “The Shining Houses” begins with Mary visiting Mrs. Fullerton’s messy homestead to buy some overpriced eggs before she heads to a birthday party with her young child. So we see Mrs. Fullerton’s eccentricities and how in her house “what was haphazard time had made final. The place had become fixed, impregnable, all its accumulations necessary…” But a yuppy subdivision called, ironically, Garden Place, grew up around Mrs. Fullerton’s home, and now the new neighbors want her gone. She blights their sense of “community.” She’s not like them. Her yard smells. It’s unseemly. As Mary listens to them all speak at the birthday party, plotting like a kitchen cabal, we hear their clever, legal scheming, their use of land-use rules against Mrs. Fullerton, and finally how they rally everyone at the party to sign a petition to drill a lane through Mrs. Fullerton’s property, forcing her to give up and move. Munro recreates that totalitarian spirit of community, that smugness, that self-satisfied power of the do-gooders who think they are community, and she does it all without actually seeming to pass judgment. They are well-meaning. “[I]t did not matter much what they said as long as they were full of self-assertion and anger. That was their strength, proof of their adulthood, of themselves and their seriousness. The spirit of anger rose among them, bearing up their young voices, sweeping them together as on a flood of intoxication, and they admired each other in this new behavior as property-owners as people admire each other for being drunk.” Mary does not sign, and draws her neighbors’ wrath. “There is nothing you can do at present but put your hands in your pockets and keep adisaffected heart.” A line that I can borrow in Palm Coast every day.

First Read on CBC’s Anthology, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968)

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