Review: “Harper’s Magazine” April 2011 Fiction

Standard

Alice Munro’s “Pride.” Not my most favorite of hers, but still a filling offering from Munro. Though disgraced after dipping into the town’s bank funds, well-to-do bank owner Horace Jantzen’s pride forces him to accept a demotion at work. He keeps the family housekeeper, and insists his daughter Ida chauffeur him to work everyday. In a town where people talk, the narrator recounting the story to us has an obvious bias against the Jantzens. So much so that when Ida begins spending time with him and eventually asks to move in, he–a man whose harelip had exempted him from WWII, and to an extent had exempted him from society–concocts a lie to weasel out of it. Unable to shake off the idea that people would talk about a living arrangement with the disgraced Ida, he tells her he’d sold his house. The narrator is tragically bound to his pride, ironically like the Jantzenses, whom the narrator, like much of the rest of town, had found too prideful. Not blessed with handsomeness, this is perhaps the only chance he would ever have of being with someone, and he dodged it. (On a related note, though the opportunity to repair his face is now available with modern surgery, he is too proud to “admit he wanted something he didn’t have”). Ida’s fate is equally but more visibly tragic; her reaction to his dismissiveness is heartaching: “So it just didn’t come to me soon enough. Like a lot of things in my life,” she says. “Something must be the matter with me.” The story’s final image–of prideful birdbathing skunks outside the narrator’s soon-to-be-sold house–is a hoot.

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