‘Baptizing’ by Alice Munro

In Munro’s first short story collection, Lives of Girls and Women, Del Jordan, wildly bright and stuck in rural Ontario, is trying to win a scholarship to college: “I got A’s at school,” she says, “I never had enough of them”. In one of the final stories, she falls for a boy, the excellently-named Garnet French, and it’s love at first sight. Munro’s version of love at first sight is far sexier than I’d have guessed before reading her; it is something to lose yourself in. At church, Del and Garnet’s hands touch and she is in ecstasy: “I felt angelic with gratitude, truly as if I had come out onto another level of existence.” This story of sexual awakening is perfectly done: “Sex seemed to me all surrender… not the woman’s to the man but the person’s to the body, an act of pure faith” – but of course it ends badly. There’s a bittersweet pain, facing the end of love and an uncertain future, but Del makes the best of it, understanding that what’s happened is part of growing up. She knows, as she says, that “real life awaits”. I can’t think of anyone who writes better than Munro about this transition from naïve adolescent to shrewd young woman.

First published in Lives of Girls and Women, 1971, Vintage

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