“Bardon Bus” appears in The Moons of Jupiter (1982), a collection of eleven stories, all of which focus on “intense . . . moments” in the lives of the female protagonists, most of them middle-aged. The opening of the story sets the tone for what follows. Had the narrator been an old maid in another generation, she would have perhaps saved a letter and dreamed about an affair while continuing to milk the cows and scour the tin pails. She would have fantasized about surrendering herself completely to a lover who perhaps was a soldier, or “a farmer down the road with a rough-tongued wife and a crowd of children,” or a preacher. Yet though she is of a later generation, and though her actions reflect that, her obsessions are the same.
The narrator, writing a book on the history of a wealthy family, is staying in Toronto at a friend’s apartment. As part of her research on the family, she recently spent a few weeks in Australia, where she met an anthropologist whom she had known slightly in Vancouver when she was a married college student. She, now divorced, and he, traveling without his third wife, embark on an affair that, because of the imposed brevity, seems perfect. On returning to Canada, however, she becomes obsessed with him, with the same intensity as the old maid of an earlier generation.
The narrator, like other middle-aged women populating Munro’s stories, is moderately successful in her career but is still rather fumbling in managing her relationships. The men in the story are no more adept at love, but their options are more varied. As Dennis, the anthropologist’s friend, points out, men can choose young women and start a new life with a new family. Older women, faced with wrinkles and menopause, cannot deny their mortality as easily as a man with a young wife can. The narrator, reacting to the inevitability of the aging process, chooses new clothes and gets a haircut but realizes that “you have to watch out for the point at which the splendor collapses into absurdity. . . . Even the buttercup woman I saw a few days ago on the streetcar, the little, stout, sixtyish woman in a frilly yellow dress well above the knees, a straw hat with yellow ribbons, yellow pumps dyed-to-match on her little fat feet—even she doesn’t aim for comedy.” The narrator is a survivor and wills herself free of her obsession and depression: “At the same time I’m thinking that I have to let go. . . . There is a limit to the amount of misery and disarray you will put up with, for love, just as there is a limit to the amount of mess you can stand around a house. You can’t know the limit beforehand, but you will know it when you’ve reached it.” The narrator is ready, and able, to move on.
Blodgett, E. D. Alice Munro. Boston: Twayne, 1988.
Carscallen, James. The Other Country: Patterns in the Writing of Alice Munro. Toronto: ECW Press. 1993.
Heble, Ajay. The Tumble of Reason: Alice Munro’s Discourse of Absence. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994.
“Munro, Alice.” In Canadian Writers Since 1960, First Series, edited by W. H. New. Volume 53 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1986.
Rasporich, Beverly Jean. Dance of the Sexes: Art and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1990.
Thacker, Robert. The Rest of the Story: Critical Essays on Alice Munro. Toronto: ECW Press, 1999.
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