‘Lichen’ by Alice Munro

I adore Alice Munro, so a story by her was an absolute must. But which one when she has written so many superb stories over a long career dedicated to the form? After much deliberation, I came to a shortlist of three: ‘Walker Brothers Cowboy’ and ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’ from her debut collection, and this story from The Progress of Love. Like the other stories in the collection, it explores the mysterious, unpredictable, and multifaceted nature of love. Love is complicated, Munro amply illustrates, is often illogical and contrary, seldomly does it meet our expectations, and it stubbornly refuses to fit comfortably into our lives. Stella is visited by her serially unfaithful, conceited, and misogynistic husband David (whom she has been separated from for many years yet remains married to and still loves) and his current girlfriend (the delicate Catherine whom we find out David is also cheating on), at Stella’s old, family summer house on the shore of Lake Huron. Masterfully rendered through an ever-exacting eye, an acute ear for dialogue, and an abundance of compassion for her characters, as with many of Alice Munro’s stories, she is able to achieve in a few thousand words the complexity and density of a novel.

First published in The New Yorker, July 1985 and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in The Progress Of Love, Douglas Gibson, 1986/Chatto & Windus, 1987; also in Selected Stories, McClelland Stewart, 1996

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