alice munro at the rink: a fervent made-up sort of hostility

Huzzah for Alice Munro, whom the Swedish Academy tried to phone this morning to tell her that she’d won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. She didn’t pick up, according to The New York Times, so they had to leave a message.

It bears repeating: huzzah.

Munro isn’t known for her tales from the rink. You know that, everybody does — though it is possible that tourists crossing the country guilelessly guided by Frommer’s Far & Wide: A Weekly Guide to Canada’s Best Travel Experiences (2011) might believe otherwise. If Tofino is, as Frommer’s advises, the best surf town in North America and Nova Scotia’s Joggins Fossil Cliffs are a great place to look for fossils, then of course

Canadian writers ranging from Alice Munro to Mordecai Richler and Roch Carrier have written about hockey.

Technically it’s true. It’s not untrue. And if the hockey is almost entirely in Munro’s backgrounds, the glances she gives it show that her perception is rarely anything but lucent.

For instance:

Irene, they said, used to go to the hockey games with her ski pants slit and nothing under them, for convenience in the snowdrifts afterward. Terrible.

• “The Turkey Season” (1980)

Brent was a drunk then, but not a sodden drunk. He played hockey on the O.T. (over thirty, old-timers) hockey team — he was quite a bit older than Karin — and he claimed that he had never played sober.

• “Pictures Of The Ice” (1990)

Nelson looked older than he was. He was short and sturdily built, sallow-skinned, unsmiling, with a suggestion of mature scorn and handy pugnaciousness laid over his features, so that it seemed he might be a hockey coach, or an intelligent, uneducated, fair-minded, and foul-mouthed foreman of a construction gang, rather than a shy, twenty-two-year-old student.

• “The Albanian Virgin” (1994)

On Presbyterians:

They were mostly elderly, and campaigned against hockey practice on Sundays, and sang psalms.

The Lives of Girls and Women (1971)

On a brother, Owen:

He sat on the floor of his room cutting out tiny cardboard figures of hockey players, which he would then arrange in teams and play games with; such godlike games he played with trembling absorption, and then seemed to me to inhabit a world so far from my own (the real one), a world so irrelevant, heartbreakingly flimsy in its deceptions.

On the people in a small Munro-country town:

They did not have much to do with each other, unless it was for games run off in the ballpark or the hockey arena, where all was a fervent made-up sort of hostility.

• “Train” (2012)

Raymond Bolting took me home and Harold Simons took Lonnie home. We all walked together as far as Lonnie’s corner. The boys were having an argument about a hockey game, which Lonnie and I could not follow. Then we separated into couples and Raymond continued with me the conversation he had been having with Harold. He did not seem to notice that he was now talking to me instead. Once or twice I said, “Well I don’t know I didn’t see that game,” but after a while I decided just to say “H’m hmm,” and that seemed all that was necessary.

• “Red Dress — 1946” (1968)


(Image: Barbara Woodley, 1993)