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Train ()

Lives of Girls and Women contains the much-quoted lines that have been taken as a credo for Munro’s writing. They bear repeating not just because they sum up what she was trying to achieve, but because they are so lovely in themselves.

“People’s lives, in Jubilee as elsewhere, were dull, simple, amazing, unfathomable – deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum. It did not occur to me then that one day I would be so greedy for Jubilee … what I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together – radiant, everlasting.”

And here lies the key to Munro’s greatness – the way in which, over five decades, she polished the same apparently unlovely, humdrum material to a luminous sheen. Her stories are small miracles of humane understanding. But don’t be fooled into mistaking this for gentleness or sentimentality. Franzen nailed it when he called it “pathological empathy”, hers is an obsessive, merciless, probing of our psyches, rooting out all our small meannesses, insecurities and inconsistencies, our endless evasions and self-delusions.
    -TRIBUTE: ‘Reading her stories is like watching a virtuoso pianist perform’: Alice Munro remembered (Lisa Allardice, 5/15/24, The Guardian)
While I'd been aware of Alice Munro, not being big on short stories, I'd never read her. It did not help that so much of her work got pay-walled at The New Yorker. But when she died last month the tributes were so effusive it seemed necessary to give her a shot. Train had the most promising title and is freely available at Harper's so that was the choice. Whatever it was I was expecting, this story was not it.

A young man, Jackson, traveling home from Germany and the war, leaps from a slow moving train before it can arrive at his scheduled stop and whatever or whoever awaits him there. Walking the rural Canadian countryside he is confronted by a jersey cow and meets the middle-aged woman who runs a small farm by herself, having recently lost the widowed mother she cared for too. The man stays and helps fix up the rather dilapidated farm, the two forming more of a casual companionship than a relationship.
And of course with Belle not a thing had to be spoken of. She was — he had found this out — sixteen years older than he was. To mention it, even to joke about it, would spoil everything. She was a certain kind of woman, he a certain kind of man.
But what kind of man is that?

Over the years he proves a reliable hand, to neighbors as well, and trustworthy enough that Belle eventually shares the story of a disturbing encounter with her father, who was subsequently hit by a train and killed. when she discovers a lump he gets her to take it seriously, drives her to surgery in Toronto and attends to her while she waits. He stands up to her when she wants to leave and she tells him that she wants to change her will to leave him the farm. Surely we've gotten some sense of the man by now, right?

But then when he is out walking in the city he stumbles almost by accident into a new life as the caretaker at an apartment building, with nary a word to Belle. Here to Jackson shows himself a dependable steward as the years pass. But then the reason he jumped the train comes back to haunt him and he moves on again to end the story.

I confess: I found Jackson's behavior maddening. The situations he keeps abandoning may not be visions of the ideal life but he has found connections and some degree of comfort, Yet he throws them away. Ms Munro eventually offers a backstory to explain why he might be distrustful of others, but one that isn't truly satisfying. He's a sufficiently sympathetic character that I wanted him to settle down and enjoy the life he's found, but he keeps bugging out. The story is obviously successful, at least to the degree that my frustration with Jackson has stayed with me and made me think about him still. You can see why other writers revered her so.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Short Stories
Alice Munro Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Alice Munro
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Alice Munro (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: Alice Munro (Nobel Prize)
    -ENTRY: Alice Munro Canadian author (steven R. Serafin, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -PUBLISHER PAGE: Alice Munro (Penguin Random House)
    -PRIZE: Alice Munro wins Man Booker International prize (Alison Flood, 26 May 2009, The Guardian)
    -PRIZE: Alice Munro wins Nobel prize in literature (Charlotte Higgins, 10/10/23, The Guardian)
-ESSAY: After abuse revelations, professors grapple with how to teach Munro: Alice Munro, Canada’s only Nobel laureate in literature, stayed with her husband after he admitted abusing her daughter. Canadians are now reassessing a national icon. (Amanda Coletta, July 12, 2024, Washington Post)
    -ARTICLE: Alice Munro knew my stepfather sexually abused me as a child, says Nobel laureate’s daughter: Andrea Robin Skinner says her stepfather sexually assaulted her when she was nine, but her mother said she ‘loved him too much’ to leave him (Sian Cain, 7/07/24, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: My stepfather sexually abused me when I was a child. My mother, Alice Munro, chose to stay with him: In the shadow of my mother, a literary icon, my family and I have kept this story hidden for decades. It’s time to tell what really happened in my childhood (Andrea Robin Skinner, 7/07/24, Toronto Star)
    -ESSAY: Was Alice Munro An Art Monster?: Or just a monster? (MEGHAN DAUM, JUL 09, 2024, The Unspeakable)
    -ARTICLE: ‘I knew this day was going to come’: Alice Munro associates say they knew of abuse (Sophia Nguyen, 7/09/24, Washington Post)
    -ESSAY: The Writer and the Brute: One short story offers a key to the question: How could Alice Munro respond to her daughter’s revelations of sexual abuse so callously? (LAURA MILLER, JULY 09, 2024, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Nobel Prize Winner Munro Fails Her Daughter: Even powerful celebrities, such as ‘Gothic Feminist’ writer Alice Munro, are not immune from the prejudices of the day. (PHYLLIS CHESLER, July 20, 2024, American Spectator)
    -AUDIO SHORT STORY: Five Points (read by Alice Munro, YouTube)
    -AUDIO SHORT STORY: Goodness and Mercy (read by Alice Munro, YouTube)
    -AUDIO SHORT STORY: friends of My Youth (read by Alice Munro, YouTube)
    -AUDIO SHORT STORY: Margaret Atwood reads Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro (The Guardian)
    -SHORT STORY: Spaceships Have Landed (Alice Munro, Summer 1994, Paris Review)
    -SHORT STORY: Circle of Prayer (Alice Munro, SUMMER-FALL 1986, Paris Review)
    -ESSAY: Remember Roger Mortimer (Alice Munro, February 25, 2015, The New Yorker)
    -SHORT STORY: Train (Alice Munro, April 2012, Harpers)
Jumping off the train was supposed to be a cancellation. You roused your body, readied your knees, to enter a different block of air. You looked forward to emptiness. And instead, what did you get? An immediate flock of new surroundings, asking for your attention in a way they never did when you were sitting on the train and just looking out the window. What are you doing here? Where are you going? A sense of being watched by things you didn’t know about. Of being a disturbance. Life around coming to some conclusions about you from vantage points you couldn’t see.

    -SHORT STORY: To Reach Japan (Alice Munro, Narrative)
    -SHORT STORY: Red Dress--1946 (Alice Munro, Narrative)
    -SHORT STORY: Amundsen (Alice Munro, August 20, 2012, The New Yorker)
    -SHORT STORY: Queenie (Alice Munro, July 1998, LRB)
    -AUDIO SHORT STORY: The Shining Houses (Alice Munro, YouTube)
    -SHORT STORY: Boys and Girls (Alice Munro)
    -SHORT STORY: Fiction (Alice Munro, Daily Lit)
    -AUDIO SHORT STORY: Access    -SHORT STORY: Voices (Alice Munro, Daily Telegraph)
    -SHORT STORY: Wood (Alice Munro, New Haven Review)
    -SHORT STORY: Wenlock Edge (Alice Munro, 11/27/05, The New Yorker)
    -AUDIO SHORT STORY by Alice Munro (YouTube)
    -AUDIO SHORT STORY: Dimensions by Alice Munro (YouTube)
    -OBIT: Alice Munro, Nobel winner and titan of the short story, dies aged 92: Acclaimed for her accounts of the darkness and desire found in everyday life, ‘the Canadian Chekhov’ has died, having suffered from dementia for more than a decade (Richard Lea and Sian Cain, 14 May 2024, The Guardian)
    -OBIT: Alice Munro Reinvigorated the Short Story (The New Yorker, May. 14th, 2024)
    -OBIT: Alice Munro, Nobel laureate revered as short story master, dies at 92 (AP, May 14, 2024)
    -OBIT: Alice Munro, Nobel Laureate and Master of the Short Story, Dies at 92: Her stories were widely considered to be without equal, a mixture of ordinary people and extraordinary themes. (Anthony DePalma, 5/14/24, NY Times)
    -OBIT: Alice Munro was the English language’s Chekhov: The Nobel prizewinning short-story writer died on May 13th, aged 92 (The Economist, May 15th 2024)
    -OBIT: Alice Munro, Canadian author who mastered the short story, dead at 92: Munro, who won the Nobel Prize in 2013, acclaimed for blending ordinary lives with extraordinary themes (Rhianna Schmunk, 5/14/24, CBC News)
    -PODCAST TRIBUTE: Jonny Diamond on His Mother and Alice Munro: In Conversation with Whitney Terrell and V.V. Ganeshananthan on Fiction/Non/Fiction (May 30, 2024, LitHub: fiction/non-fiction)
    -TRIBUTE: Alice Munro, master of the short story: superlative tales that exalt the drama of the everyday (Ellen Orchard, May 21, 2024, The Conversation)
    -TRIBUTE: “What a Goddamn Writer She Was”: Remembering Alice Munro (1931–2024) (The Paris Review, May 24, 2024)
    -TRIBUTE: Is Alice Munro ‘our Chekhov?’: If any writer was acutely aware of how complicated the human psyche is, it was Munro (Leah McLaren, May 20, 2024, Spectator)
    -TRIBUTE: ‘Her stories are life itself’: Yiyun Li on the genius of Alice Munro (Yiyun Li, 17 May 2024, The guardian)
    -TRIBUTE: ‘Reading her stories is like watching a virtuoso pianist perform’: Alice Munro remembered: The Ontario-born writer turned the ‘classic New Yorker-style short story’ into the highest form of literature, by taking an obsessively detailed interest in the people who lived in her small Canadian town (Lisa Allardice, 5/15/24, The Guardian)
    -TRIBUTE: My Mother Will Live Forever in the Stories of Alice Munro: Jonny Diamond on the Timeless Genius of Canada’s Greatest Writer (Jonny Diamond, May 15, 2024, LitHub)
    -TRIBUTE: Remembering Alice Munro 1931-2024 (Emily Temple, May 14, 2024, LitHub)
    -TRIBUTE: The Master: Alice Munro cracked the lives of ordinary people like geodes to discover what glittered within. (LAURA MILLER, MAY 14, 2024, Slate)
    -TRIBUTE: Alice Munro’s stories had a depth most novelists only dream of: A fellow short-story writer recalls some favorites by Munro and wonders at the way they leaped through time. (Justin Taylor, May 15, 2024, Washington Post)
    -OBIT: Alice Munro, Canadian author who won Nobel Prize for Literature, dies at 92 (SANDRA MARTIN, 5/14/24, THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
    -TRIBUTE: Alice Munro followed the back roads of stories, mapping routes home to southwestern Ontario (Manina Jones, May 15, 2024, The Conversation)
    -TRIBUTE: Alice Munro Reinvigorated the Short Story: Working with the author, who has died, at ninety-two, was both a thrill and a lesson in intentionality. (Deborah Treisman, 5/16/24, The New Yorker)
    -APPRECIATION: Alice Munro: an appreciation by Margaret Atwood (Margaret Atwood, 10 Oct 2008, The Guardian)
    -APPRECIATION: Alice Munro, Our Chekhov: Few contemporary writers are more admired, and with good reason. (James Wood, October 10, 2013, The New Yorker)
-PODCAST: Curtis Sittenfeld on Alice Munro (Bookfight, 3 June 2024)
    -PODCAST: Alice Munro: Encore presentation of Nobel Prize Talks (Adam Smith, Nobel Prize)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Alice Munro, In Her Own Words: 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature (Nobel Prize)
    -INTERVIEW: Alice Munro, The Art of Fiction No. 137 (Interviewed by Jeanne McCulloch & Mona Simpson, SUMMER 1994, Paris Review)
    -PROFILE: Mistress of all she surveys: From the secretive start to her career to being feted by John Updike, Alice Munro has remained true to the lives and rhythms of small-town life, and, as she tells Louise France, her new collection of short stories is another celebration of the everyday (Louise France, 2/05/05, The Observer)
    -PROFILE: Alice Munro: Riches of a double life: Brought up on the wrong side of the tracks in Canada, Alice Munro found reading - then writing - was an escape from a difficult home life. Described as a 'shy housewife' when she won her first award, she has since been compared to Chekhov and is now, at 72, seen as the finest living writer of short stories (Aida Edemarian, 3 Oct 2003, The Guardian)
    -PROFILE: Nobel prizewinner Alice Munro: 'It's a wonderful thing for the short story': This week Alice Munro will receive the Nobel prize for literature. Lisa Allardice, who met Munro in Canada after the publication of her collection The View from Castle Rock, asks her about the dividing line between life and work (Lisa Allardice, 12/06/13, The Guardian)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Rex Murphy interviews Alice Munro (1990) (Rex Murphy, Oct 10, 2013, CBC News: The National)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Live Hangout On Air with Alice Munro in Conversation with Margaret Atwood (Penguin Random House)
    -APPRECIATION: An Appreciation of Alice Munro (Walter James Miller, Lisa Dickler Awano, Summer 2006, Virginia Quarterly Review)
    -INTERVIEW: An Interview with Alice Munro (Lisa Dickler Awano, Alice Munro, October 22, 2010, VQR)
    -PROFILE: A Quiet Genius: Alice Munro is the living writer most likely to be read in a hundred years. (Mona Simpson, December 2001, The Atlantic)
    -PROFILE: Alice Munro's Vancouver (David Laskin, June 11, 2006, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: A Beginner’s Guide to Alice Munro (BEN DOLNICK, July 5, 2012, Millions)
    -STORY LIST: Five of the best Alice Munro short stories (Lisa Allardice, 14 May 2024, The Guardian)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Dull, Simple, Amazing and Unfathomable: Short Stories of Alice Munro (Marlene Goldman, TEDxUTSC)
    -BOOK CLUB: WSJ Book Club: Discussing Alice Munro (with Curtis Sittenfeld, The Wall Street Journal)
    -STORY LIST: Read 20 Short Stories From Nobel Prize-Winning Writer Alice Munro (RIP) Free Online (Open Culture)
    -ESSAY: Inside Alice Munro’s Notebooks (Benjamin Hedin, May 24, 2024, Paris Review)
    -ESSAY: Alice Munro’s Magic: Her characters often have to decide what “home” means, and what to do with it when you have left it (Hermione Lee, February 5, 2015, NY Review of Books)
-ESSAY: 10 Examples of the Masterful Short Fiction of Alice Munro (Eric P, 5/15/24,, Toledo Library)
    -ESSAY: Substance If Not Style: On the Radical Similarities of Alice Munro and Pedro Almodóvar: Veronica Esposito Finds Unlikely Parallels in Two of Our Greatest Storytellers (Veronica Esposito, May 10, 2021, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Is Alice Munro’s Lone Novel… Even a Novel?: Benjamin Hedin on the Formal Mastery of The Lives of Girls and Women (Benjamin Hedin, June 16, 2021, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Endings That Change Everything: On Alice Munro’s Literary Innovations: Elizabeth Poliner Close Reads Anton Chekhov’s “The Darling” and Munro’s “Friend of My Youth” (Elizabeth Poliner, July 9, 2021, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Memory Matters: Alice Munro’s Narrative Handling of Alzheimer’s in "The Bear Came over the Mountain" and "In Sight of the Lake" (Begoña Simal, Miscelanea)
    -ESSAY: Kindling The Creative Fire: Alice Munro’s Two Versions of “Wood” (Lisa Dickler Awano, MAY 30, 2012, New Haven Review)
    -ESSAY: Some Stories Have to Be Told by Me: A Literary History of Alice Munro (Marcela Valdes, Summer 2006, VQR)
    -ESSAY: The Golden Eye: Alice Munro’s Dear Life “Finale” (Lisa Dickler Awano, February 5, 2014, Virginia Quarterly Review)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Train by Alice Munro: Summary & Analysis (
    -STUDY GUIDE: Module 2: Reading Train (Online Writing Classes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Escaping from Life: A Thematic Analysis on “Train and “Dolly” (Grade Saver)
    -ESSAY: How does the Spatial Plane Shade into the Psychological Plane in Alice Munro's Short Story "Train"? An Analysis of Point of View in Fiction from a Different Point of View (Ufuk Sahin, 2021)
    -ARCHIVES: Alice Munro (NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: Alice Munro (Virginia Quarterly Review)
    -VIDEO ARCHIVES: Alice Munro (YouTube)
    -ARCHIVES: Alice Munro (LitHub)
    -ARCHIVES: munro (LRB)
    -ARCHIVES: Alice Munro (The New Yorker)
    -ARCHIVES: Alice Munro (Harpers)
    -ARCHIVES: Alice Munro (Paris Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Alice Munro (The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Dear Life by Alice Munro (Anne Enright, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Dear Life (Patricia Duncker, Literary Review)
    -REVIEW: of Dear Life (Neil D.A. Stewart, Civilian)
    -REVIEW: of Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro (Lisa Dickler Awano, VQR)
    -REVIEW: of Selected Stories by Alice Munro (James Wood, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Runaway by Alice Munro (Jonathan Franzen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro (Tessa Hadley, LRB)
    -REVIEW: of Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro. (Benjamin Markovits, LRB)
    -REVIEW: of Train by Alice Munro (Jen Thorpe)
    -REVIEW: of Train (Fail Better)
    -REVIEW: of Train (Buried in Print)
    -REVIEW: of Train (Mookse and Gripes)
    -REVIEW: of Train (Karen Carlson, A Just Recompense)

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