When I walked into my classroom this morning, my students were abuzz with literary conversation. “I loved this story,” shouted Amorita, who also added that she’d been waiting weeks to talk about “How I Met My Husband” by Alice Munro. “It’s so ironic,” said Victoria. “I hated Loretta Bird,” added Hannah.
This is exactly the kind of conversations the literature teacher likes to walk in on. My students were armed and ready, so we dove right in, and started our discussion on theme: the insight or larger realization a story leaves with the reader. In “How I Met My Husband,” 15-year-old Edie falls for Chris Watters, a pilot who flies into town and gives rides to the locals for a fee. He pays attention to her, and she enjoys being noticed, but everything changes when his fiancee, Alice Kelling, comes to town. One day, when Edie notices Chris has put a sign up cancelling his services for the day, she worries about him and bakes him a cake. She takes it to his tent (which has been set up in the field across the street from her employers’ house). Then, conveyed in the vivid and emotionally deep prose that Munro is known for, Chris seduces Edie: “He put the cake away carefully and sat beside me and started those little kisses, so soft, I can’t ever let myself think about them, such kindness in his face and lovely kisses, all over my eyelids and neck and ears, all over, then me kissing back as well as I could….”
The female students swooned as I read the seduction passage. They loved Munro’s richness in detail and her ability to capture the innocence and naivete of Edie’s character. “I love this writer!” Amorita said. “How does she do that?” Such is the question any writer who reads Munro must ask. I know I did. I’ve long admired her work — especially this much anthologized story — and have tried to imitate her style in order to learn from it. How does a writer capture the very essence and emotions of a character so well? We talked about that for a bit, and we talked about themes, but all the while, I was beaming inside. It’s happening, I thought. It’s actually happening: my students are discovering the magic we call reading. And at this, I swooned too.