Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In “Circle of Prayer,” Munro has raised time shifts to the next level, with a story so completely out of chronological order that it demands a close reading. Trudy, a single mother, works from four to midnight at the Home for Mentally Handicapped Adults. When she hears that her fifteen-year-old daughter’s classmate, Tracy Lee, has been killed in an automobile crash, Trudy fears for her daughter Robin, who feigns indifference to the death.
Trudy drinks her morning coffee and thinks of her husband Dan—their first meeting, their courtship and life together. She remembers their arguments when he left her to live with a younger woman, Genevieve. Last summer Robin returned after a month with her father, upset because he seemed happier with Genevieve than at their home.
Rebellious Robin comes home at noon to change clothes so that she can join her classmates for an afternoon visitation at the funeral home. When the girls drop their jewelry into Tracy Lee’s open coffin as a symbolic gesture, Robin adds her dead grandmother’s jet beads. Trudy confronts her for taking the beads without permission and insists on an explanation, but the real issue for both is Dan, not the necklace: their grief, not their anger. Janet, Trudy ’s fellow worker, advises her to pray for the return of the jet beads. Janet belongs to a secret Circle of Prayer and believes that, when everyone in the circle prays together, prayer will be answered. Trudy responds sarcastically that perhaps God will return Dan, the beads, even Tracy Lee.
Trudy recalls her honeymoon, when she watched Dan’s mother playing the piano and perceived the older woman’s sadness through her own joy. When Dan left her, she was aware of her love for him as well as her own unhappiness, a confused jumble of emotions. Suddenly Robin telephones, implying a reconciliation, and unlike most of Munro’s stories, the mother-daughter relationship begins to heal.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Franzen, Jonathan. “Alice’s Wonderland.” The New York Times Book Review, November 14, 2004, 1, 14-16.
Howells, Coral Ann. Alice Munro. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1998.
McCulloch, Jeanne, and Mona Simpson. “The Art of Fiction CXXXVII.” Paris Review 131 (Summer, 1994): 226-264.
Moore, Lorrie. “Leave Them and Love Them.” The Atlantic Monthly 294, no. 5 (December, 2004): 125.
Munro, Sheila. Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing Up with Alice Munro. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001.
Ross, Catherine Sheldrick. Alice Munro: A Double Life. Toronto: ECW Press, 1992.
Simpson, Mona. “A Quiet Genius.” The Atlantic Monthly 288, no. 5 (December, 2001): 126.