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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: August 2018

1 - Where Do You Think You Are? Alice Munro's Open Houses

from Part I - Conceptualizing Space and Place: Houses, Landscapes, Territory

Summary

Compared to the other houses in town, hers appeared to have no secrets, no contradictions. What people said was, “It's such a pretty house, doesn't look real.”

—Alice Munro, Lives of Girls and Women

THE FELT NEED for literary criticism to develop a more rigorous approach to the spaces in and of fiction—attending to how fiction occupies and configures space, how geography and fiction intersect and inform one another, and how space plays a fundamental role in reading— arises partly from the insights of fiction itself in addressing its spatiality. Linda Hutcheon has identified in postmodern fiction a tendency toward what she calls “historiographic metafiction,” a fiction that, even as it tells a historical story, comments upon its own writing of history: its involvements, its processes, its limitations. In this essay I argue that in fiction such as Alice Munro's there is also a geographic metafiction, a fiction that, even as it configures space and place, examines its own ability to do so. A reading of “Vandals,” the final story in Munro's 1994 collection, Open Secrets, demonstrates that Munro's fiction makes use of its own spatial form to comment on the places it evokes within its narrative, while the representation of those places self-reflexively comments in turn on the space of the story.

To refer to Munro's stories as open houses is to nod to her titular phrase “open secrets” in the belief that the two concepts are often synonymous in her work. The house is a central figure in Munro's fiction, frequently appearing as a place infused with secrets, as evidenced by the much-cited assertion in her book Lives of Girls and Women that people's lives are “deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum” (LiGW, 249). The social custom of the open house, meanwhile, carries with it the implication that, like writers of fiction, the people who host such events are making intimate, hidden things available and knowable to others.