Deal Me In Lite, Week 6: “Dimension” by Alice Munro
This week my half-deck of cards sent me back to The Best American Short Stories 2007 with the five of clubs, which mainly tells me that I must truly suck at shuffling cards. However, I got an intriguing and enthralling story to read in return for my poor shuffling abilities.
This story, originally published in The New Yorker, tells the tale of Doree, a young woman who works as a housekeeper in a motel. As the story opens, she is traveling to meet someone at a “facility.” Via some very expert foreshadowing on Munro’s part, we quickly realize that this is not going to be a very happy story. We soon find out that she is going to see her husband, Lloyd, who is locked away in an institution for the criminally insane. He is much older than Doree, and they married after Doree’s mother died. Lloyd was her mother’s orderly in the hospital during her illness. After Lloyd and Doree get together, they quickly have three children because Lloyd doesn’t believe in birth control. Or bottle-feeding of babies, or public education, or letting his wife have any friends. He is a controlling husband who believes in keeping his wife “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen,” as the saying goes. Lloyd seems to be especially upset at Doree’s friendship with Maggie, another homeschooling mom who Lloyd (irrationally) thinks is trying to drive a wedge between him and Doree.
They argue about these and many other things, until one evening Doree makes the bold move of walking out on Lloyd and going to Maggie’s house for comfort and advice. While she is there, Lloyd murders their three children.
So we pick up the story on the bus with Doree going to visit Lloyd. She has already been several times, and after one visit where he begins to reconnect with Doree, Lloyd sends her a long, rambling letter telling her that he has seen and talked with their children, who are happy and alive, living in another dimension. He doesn’t think it is Heaven, he’s not that religious a man anyway, but he has seen them. Of course Doree does not know what to do with this information. What eventually happens on this (as it turns out) last trip to see Lloyd brings the story to a conclusion that will make the reader sit and think about the story for a long time afterwards (or maybe that was just me).
I enjoyed this story by Alice Munro, I think the first of hers I have ever read, and I am eager to read more. However, I am not so sure about letting Stephen King ever edit another anthology like this one again. Every story I have read in it so far has been pretty dark and disturbing, at least partially. (Maybe this is the natural state of current fiction these days, I don’t know.) This particular story had significant redemption for the main character at the end, which was good, but I’ll just say that I’m more than ready for a story that’s not quite as heavy and dark, Mr. King!