“Deep-Holes” by Alice Munro

Guest reviewed by Ulrica Skagert

“Deep-Holes” begins with a quite ordinary family excursion to a vista of a natural phenomenon called Deep-holes. The sign of danger at the parking to the vista, and the protagonist’s fear at the viewing of the crevasses, signal peril that runs deeper in the story than just a temporary risk of falling into the hole. Since the story explores the painful circumstances of a child rejecting his family and their way of life, Deep-holes become psychic spaces where one might fall into despair. In those psychic spaces there might not be enough hope just as there is not “enough greenery” in the Deep-holes “to make any sort of cushion over the rubble below.”

As always, Munro masters the precise descriptions of the surface details of this ordinary family picnic. The covert uneasiness, danger, and complications of family life seep through in a quite a creepy manner. As in some of her recent stories, Munro makes use of a language of artless sincerity. With affectively raw and straightforward sentences she manages to cut right to the bone. For instance, when the mother character goes to see her son whom she has not seen for many years, she makes an unfitting joke. The sharp contrast between a wish for empathic closeness and the rejecting of anything personal becomes unbearable: “The look that leaped to his face was almost savage.” Munro enfolds the moment of a dramatic event into the entire life journey of a family. This is one of Munro’s distinct strengths as a short story craftsman. She can encompass the sense of richness equal to a novel. A single, well chosen character trait becomes quite a fatalistic drive that shapes his or her life. Using emotionally restrained language, Munro brings the experience of feelings out of focus, but highlights the enigmatic forces that guide the characters and the choices they make. This intricate weaving of hope and despair does not leave the reader at rest.

Read “Deep-Holes” in June 30 2008 issue of The New Yorker.

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