Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although the father’s five-day hospital stay before the operation is presented as a linear event, the majority of the narrative is circular. The reader is later told of events that immediately precede the opening event (driving her father to the emergency room), of events in the distant past (her childhood, her early married life), and even of events in the future (cleaning out her father’s house after his death). The intermingling of past, present, and future allows multiple perspectives to coexist simultaneously and conveys a multidimensioned picture of Janet’s father. The various angles of perception about her father at different stages in her life converge to help nuance and clarify a more balanced, compassionate and nonjudgmental presentation of her father’s character.

The circularity of the narrative functions as a literary parallel to the movement of Jupiter and its moons. The single, focused event of the preparation for surgery by the father—Jupiter—precipitates the narrator’s mental excursions to explore and reevaluate family relationships. These short digressions, explanations, and memories of other events and other dialogues—like Jupiter’s moons—revolve around the main event. Each dialogue during the narrator’s time in Toronto stimulates commentaries or mirror-events from Janet’s past that shed light on and give a more complete picture of a family member. These digressions—these time-travel journeys into the past and even once into the future—are presented as compressed vignettes, revealing a major character trait or expressing a quality in a particular relationship. The father—in his current medical condition—functions as the center of gravity that holds all these satellite digressions together and harmonizes them.

Jupiter and its moons become an ironic symbol of the narrator’s ambiguous relationship with her father. The difficulty of family members who love another despite their differences and yet cannot express their love verbally is highlighted by the last conversation between the narrator and her father before he dies. The discussion is factual and impersonal: a review of some of the moons’ names and their mythological namesakes. It is as removed from earthly life as it could possibly be, but it is something they can share together without the tension of differing perspectives that had so long characterized their relationship.

The Moons of Jupiter

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 12)

Twice the recipient of Canada’s highest literary prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, Alice Munro writes subtle, evenly paced stories that evoke a strong sense of place and reveal an extraordinary gift for characterization. She is a writer with penetrating insight into human emotions and the often hidden dimensions of human relationships. Her most successful work draws heavily on the details of life in the rural Canadian provinces, areas similar to the place where she grew up and still lives. Her stories are traditional in structure and subject. They rely on retrospective narrative for exposition, usually employ a first-person or limited third-person point of view, and evolve from ordinary social occasions and involvements: dinner parties, visits from relatives, marital difficulties and divorce, and, quite often, the painful dissolution of love affairs.

Noted for her concise style and ironic detachment, Munro has been compared to Mavis Gallant, a fellow New Yorker contributor and an expatriate who has lived in Canada as well as the United States. Munro also bears comparison with Margaret Atwood, her compatriot and contemporary. Like those of Atwood, Munro’s stories frequently focus on the lives of women who have learned to accommodate and please men before themselves. Even in those stories where the heroine has a professional career as a librarian, an editor, or a writer, the focus is on her personal involvements with men. Like Atwood, Munro offers insight into the peculiar dilemmas of modern women and men; indeed, her stories depict nearly every phase of a woman’s relationship with others: as daughter, friend, employee, lover, and wife. Munro’s forte is her ability to penetrate beneath the surface of these ordinary relationships to the unvoiced concerns of her characters, and the emotional and psychological needs that motivate them.

The Moons of Jupiter is Munro’s fourth collection of short fiction. Like her earlier collections—Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (1974), and The Beggar Maid (1979)—this latest work offers masterfully written, quietly paced, carefully plotted stories, rich in evocative detail. All center on female characters at some point of reassessment or change in their lives. Of the eleven stories here—one is split into two sections, separately subtitled, and thus may be read as two stories—nine take as their central figure women in midlife. The two exceptions are “The Turkey Season” and “Mrs. Cross and Mrs. Kidd.” The former is a retrospective first-person narrative about an adolescent girl’s awakening sexuality and her recognition of “the impenetrable mystery in the universe.” The latter is a portrait of two elderly women confined to a nursing home and faced with dwindling physical strength and limited power over others. The settings for the stories in this collection range the width of Canada: Toronto, Vancouver, the Maritime Provinces, the Ottawa Valley, and rural Ontario towns with tattered names such as Hanratty and Dagleish. Munro not only captures the places where her characters live, evoking townships and landscapes through a few details or scraps of dialogue but also penetrates to that level of human consciousness where, assessing the past in the light of experience, one quietly and sometimes unwillingly recognizes the painful, uncertain nature of life. In Munro’s naturalistic world, happiness and love are accidental, aging and death are certainties.

Three stories from this collection best illustrate this theme. In “Accident,” Frances, a former high school music teacher, returns to the small town where she taught thirty years before. Attending the funeral of a sister-in-law, she recalls the circumstances leading to her marriage and the unclear role her sister-in-law may have played in that fate. For Frances, love has been fortunate, yet accidental, as the story’s title implies. It resulted from the death of her husband’s only son, a child by his first marriage, and cost Frances a different, perhaps grander future. Counterpointing in Frances and her husband, Ted, female...

(The entire section is 1705 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Sources for Further Study

Books Canada. XI, October, 1982, p. 12.

Canadian Forum. LXII, October, 1982, p. 24.

Hudson Review. XXXVI, Summer, 1983, p. 366.

Library Journal. CVIII, February 15, 1983, p. 413.

Ms. XI, April, 1983, p. 34.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVIII, March 20, 1983, p. 1.

Newsweek. CI, April 25, 1983, p. 85.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXII, December 17, 1982, p. 63.

Saturday Review. IX, June, 1983, p. 56.

Time. CXXI, February 28, 1983, p. 72.

Virginia Quarterly Review. LIX, Autumn, 1983, p. 128.

West Coast Review of Books. IX, July, 1983, p. 26.