- Summary of Alice Munro’s “Passion”
There is, of course, no substitute for having read Alice Munro’s “Passion” as background and basis for the essays that follow. However, as a stop-gap, or as a spur to memory, here is a very brief summary of the story, with apologies to Munro for the immeasurable inadequacy of this rendering:
After forty years, Grace revisits the summer community in the Ottawa Valley, where, at the age of twenty, she’d met the Travers family. Sighting their former house, she recalls the past, and the following story unfolds. After graduation from high school, she was expected to join her uncle in caning chairs for a living, but for the summer, she was waitressing at the inn in Bailey Falls to “get a taste of life.” There she is noticed by the younger Travers son, Maury, who falls in love with her, romanticizing her poverty and spirit. Grace is befriended by his mother, whose intelligence and history are at odds with the sort of comfortable, middle-class life that her second husband has given her and that Maury now plans for Grace. Putatively engaged to Maury, Grace meets his older half-brother, Neil, a married doctor for whom alcohol is a distraction from hopelessness. When Grace has a minor accident, Neil whisks her off to the hospital, and then, with her consent, takes her on an odyssey into the countryside, leaving duty and propriety behind. Neil teaches Grace how to drive his car and introduces her to passion when he casually licks her palm. They do not have sex, sharing instead a deeper connection—a vision of life’s promise undercut by its emptiness. The next day, knowing she can’t return to Maury, she learns that Neil has killed himself in a car crash. Maury’s father pays a visit, handing her a thousand-dollar check. After imagining a gesture of refusal, she uses the money to create a new destiny. Now, as an old woman, with perhaps some unresolved issues from the past, she has come back for a look at the place where her life had its turning-point. [End Page 171]
Susan Lohafer has taught in both the American Literature area and the MFA Program in Nonfiction at The University of Iowa. She is the author of Coming to Terms with the Short Story and Reading for Storyness: Preclosure Theory, Empirical Poetics, and Culture in the Short Story, as well as the co-edited collection Short Story Theory at a Crossroads. Her essays on short fiction theory have appeared in various journals and collections, and she has published short stories in The Southern Review, The Antioch Review, and elsewhere.