Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like many of Munro’s stories, this one has a tone of charming intimacy and confidentiality about it, mediated in this case through the double perspective of its first-person narrator. Edie tells her story as a memoir: She is no longer the fifteen-year-old romantic, but the middle-aged Mrs. Carmichael who understands what her younger self did not and could not.

Perhaps more than anything else, it is Munro’s remarkable gift of rendering her central characters as persons one can know, understand, and feel close to that attracts one to her work. Even the less sophisticated characters such as young Edie often yield meanings that surprise by their depth and spirituality, meanings that flow from the author’s deft touches of detail through her character’s perception: Loretta hooking her legs around the chair rung; Alice’s freckled and wrinkled fingers; and especially Edie remembering Chris after all these years, not bitterly for the unkept promise, but almost wistfully for the kisses, the kindness in his face, and the words, “I wouldn’t do you any harm for the world.” Such authentic detail animates both style and character and rewards the reader with moral significance and aesthetic delight.


The story takes place in the country, about five miles outside an unidentified town, soon after the end of World War II. Critics assume the locale is Ontario, Canada, but nothing in the story explicitly indicates that. Rather, this story could take place in a rural area outside many small towns during the late 1940s or early 1950s, whether in the United States or Canada.

Various details contribute to the sense of place and time. “Cars were in short supply then, after the war,” Edie tells us when explaining why Mrs. Peebles, though comparatively wealthy, does not have a car of her own. Mrs. Peebles’s house, however, has all the era’s new appliances, such as an automatic washer and dryer as well as a double sink in the kitchen, which Edie did not have in her own home on the farm. Edie’s domestic values also contribute to a sense of time and place. She is appalled, for example, that Mrs. Peebles does not know how to bake pie or biscuits and prefers Jell-O or fruit out of a tin for dessert. Mrs. Peebles’s bathroom décor suggests the postwar period: “The basin and the tub and toilet were all pink, and there were glass doors with flamingoes painted on them, to shut off the tub.” If the kitchen provides a site for Edie to enact homespun values of womanhood, in the bathroom she begins to understand her sexuality: there, in the three-way “mirror all steamed up and the air like a perfumed cloud,” she would admire herself “naked, from three directions.”

The emptiness of the setting—the fact that, across the way from the Peebles’ house, there is a place “where the fairgrounds used to be”—signifies the possibilities in Edie’s life. Because “the barns and display sheds [had been] torn down now for scrap lumber...there was nothing in the way” to prevent Chris Watters from landing his airplane, a symbol of the future, and turning Edie’s life around by doing so. Watters himself lives in a tent near the old...

(The entire section is 602 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical 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.


Baron, Henry J. 2004. “How I Met My Husband.” Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press. [Available at]. Baron notes the “charming intimacy and confidentiality” in the narrator’s voice and identifies the theme of self-deception in this story.

Baum, Rosalie Murphy. 1984. “Artist and Woman: Young Lives in Laurence and Munro.” North Dakota Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 196-211. Baum discusses the celebration of female adolescence within the works of Munro, understanding her work in the tradition of a female bildungsroman.

Busch, Frederick. 1974. “Review: Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You.” The New York Times. October 27. [Available at]. Busch is somewhat disappointed with the story, finding the narrator trying too hard to be well liked.

Hoy, Helen. 1980. “‘Dull, Simple, Amazing and Unfathomable’: Paradox and Double Vision in Alice Munro’s Fiction.” Studies in Canadian Literature, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 100-115. Hoy finds that practically every sentence and paragraph in Munro’s writing contains part of a paradox, ambiguity, double vision, or irony.

Woodcock, George. 1986. “The Plots of Life: The Realism of Alice Munro.” Queen’s Quarterly, vol. 93, no. 2, pp. 285-250. Woodcock explores realism in Munro’s writing, particularly as it relates to her younger female characters.