Alice Munro •
The Beggar Maid
(also published as Who Do You Think You Are?) •
It used to be that critics looked down their noses at the short story; stories were what dilettantes produced instead of settling down to serious work.
That was before Alice Munro came on the scene. Here’s an extract from this early collection:
Royal Beating. That was Flo’s promise. You are going to get one Royal Beating.
The word Royal lolled on Flo’s tongue, took on trappings. Rose had a need to picture things, to picture absurdities, that was stronger than the need to stay out of trouble, and instead of taking this threat to heart she pondered: how is a beating royal? She came up with a tree-lined avenue, a crowd of formal spectators, some white horses and black slaves. Someone knelt, and the blood came leaping out like banners. An occasion both savage and splendid. In real life they didn’t approach such dignity . . . Rose and her father soon got beyond anything presentable.
Her father was king of the royal beatings.
Wow. And that was near the outset of a career that has included some 140 stories published to date.
The Swedes apparently know a good thing when they read it: They recently awarded Munro the Nobel Prize in Literature. Hemingway got one of those. So did Pablo Neruda. George Bernard Shaw. Pearl Buck. William Faulkner.
That’s some pretty rare air. Well done, Alice Munro.
And what becomes of Rose, post-beating? “Later still a tray will appear. Flo will put it down without a word and go away. A large glass of chocolate milk on it, made with Vita-Malt from the store. Some rich streaks of Vita-Malt around the bottom of the glass. Little sandwiches, neat and appetizing. Canned salmon of the first quality and reddest color, plenty of mayonnaise . . . ”