March 5, 2012: “Haven” by Alice Munro
This isn’t one of my favorite Munro stories, although I like how it begins.
A young girl is dumped by her parents on her aunt and uncle while they go off to work in Africa for a year. The girl is somewhat embarrassed by this, but it puts her in a good position to observe her mother’s sister, Dawn, and Dawn’s husband. Dawn is completely under Jasper’s thumb. The household revolves around him—what he wants, what he doesn’t like—and the girl imagines that Dawn has created a haven for her husband, something she read about in a woman’s magazine.
But trouble arises when new neighbors move in and want to be sociable. Dawn is interested, but Jasper isn’t willing to have guests in his house. (One wonders why he accepted the girl for a whole year, although he presumably thought he could control her). It also happens that Jasper’s sister, a professional violinist, comes to town. Unbeknownst to Jasper, Dawn invites the sister and the neighbors over for coffee and sherry while Jasper is at a professional meeting. Time gets away from them, though, and the guests are still in the house when Jasper gets home. Conflict and repercussions ensue.
The story seems to be about the awakening of Dawn, which makes her name a blunt choice. She even wears a “soft lilac color” suit to a funeral—a color of dawn, perhaps? Or of spring, which is the time of year that the funeral takes place. And the funeral is the Church of the Hosannas, and Hosanna means “save” or “pray.” In the end, Dawn has her resurrection. It’s all a little heavy handed, it seems to me.