Book review: Menseteung -A story by Alice Monroe

(Monroe was the Nobe-Laurate in Literature 2013 )We have selected a story by the year's Nobel-prize winner in literature from Canada Alice Monro. The story 'Menseteung' is collected in her called Friends of My Youth. The story is about a woman called Almeda Joynt Roth from a small place in Canada. Almeda was a poet, the story-writer says. Maybe its partly real or maybe not. The story of her life was told by a narrator.

Thus Monro writes: ''Offering the book is called. Gold letterings on a dull-blue cover. The author's full name underneath: Almeda Joynt Roth…The book was published,in 1873. ''Here Monro have taken 1873 out of its context and put it as imaginary time. Then the descriptions of the poet Almeda (Meda) is given: ''The poetess has a long face; a rather long nose; full ,sombre dark eyes,which seem ready to roll down her cheeks like giant tears; a lot of dark hair gathered around her face in droppy rolls and curtains."

The story-writer comments:
''Not a pretty girl but the sort of woman who may age well,who probably won't get fat. ''

Then a short introduction to her family:
'' In 1854'' she writes in the preface to her book , ''my father brought us-my mother,my sister Catherine,my brother William, and me- to the wilds of Canada West (as it then was ). My father was a harness-maker by trade,but a cultivated man who quote by heart from the Bible, Shakespeare,and the writings od Edmund Bruke. He prospered in this newly opened land and was able to set up a harness and leather-goods store, and after a year to build the comfortable house in which I live(alone)today. I was fourteen years old,the eldest of the children,when we came into this country from Kingston, a town whose handsome streets I have not seen again but often remember.My sister was eleven and my brother nine. The third summer that we lived here,my brother and sister were taken ill of a prevalent fever and died within a few days of each other. My mother did not regain her spirits after this blow to our family. Her health declined, and after another three years she died. I then became housekeeper to my father and was happy to make his home for twelve years, until he died suddenly one morning at his shop.

Monro writes about Meda's lonely life at her father's house after her father's death:

''In 1879 Almeda Roth was still living in the house at the corner of Pearl and Dufferin streets ,the house her father had built for his family.… Everyone takes it for granted that Almeda Roth is thinking of Jarvis Poulter as a husband and would say yes if he asked her. And she is thinking of him… If he attended church on Sunday evenings,there would be a chance,during some months of the year,to walk home after dark. Nor does he call for her, and walk with her to church on Sunday morning. She does not invite him to come in---a woman living alone can do such a thing. ''

Monro telling about her neighbour Jarvis Poulter writes:
''He came to this part of the country looking for oil. Drilling for oil he discovered salt.''
"Everyone takes it for granted that Almeda Roth is thinking of Jarvis Poulter as a husband and would say yes if he asked her. Then she writes about Almeda's feelings about Jarvis. The text carry the feminist point of view of Alice Monro.
''Jarvis Poulter's garments,his smell,his movements all cause the skin on the side of her body next to him to tingle hopefully, and a meek shiver raises the hairs on her arms."

''One thing she has noticed about married woman,and that is how many of them have to go about creating their husbands. They have to start ascribing preferences,opinions, dictatorial ways. " Eventually Jarvius Poulter felt for Almeda very strongly. She died earlier than Jarvis Poulter. Nearly a year before. The news had been recorded in the local newspaper.

The story is told from the narrator's point of view. The narrator in Meneseteung is a sort of sleuth who even has to discover the proper grave of hermain character the poet Almeda Roth.

"I looked for Almeda Roth in the graveyard. I found the family stone. There was just one name on it---Roth. Then I noticed two flat stones in the ground,a distance of a few feet---six feet?---from the upright stone. One of these said "Papa",the other " Mama". Farther out from these I found two flat stones,with the names William and Catherine on them…No birth or death dates for anybody,nothing about being dearly beloved…I thought that Almeda must haveen buried somewhere else…I began pulling grass and scrabling in the dirt with my bare hands. Soon I felt the stone clear and I read the name "Meda". There it was with the others, staring at the sky. "

Menseteung is one of the early beautiful stories of Alice Monro. This story reminds us of a ,sweet sad lyrics, Tears,Idle Tears , of Alfred Tennyson. The title name is also a name of a river. Alice Monro writes the story Menseteung with sublime restraint and subtle modulation.

- R.S