To Thine Own Self Be True: “Dimensions” by Alice Munro

Too Much Happiness - Alice Munro

As I go about writing “Life”, I’ve decided to engage in a reading discipline as well.  Taking a page from Julie Israel’s blog, The Read Room, I will be reading some of the best short stories I can get my hands on and reflecting on them here.  Julie was able to complete 31 in 31 straight days.  My goal is 25.

Today’s story:

“Dimensions” by Alice Munro from Too Much Happiness


The story opens with Doree (who now goes by Fleur), a spiked-haired chambermaid from Blue Spruce Inn taking 3 buses to an unnamed ‘facility”.  She is jittery and tries to settle her nerves by picking words out of signs (from “coffee” – “fee”, “foe”, “off”, “of”).

The narration hops back 7 years, to when Doree was 16 and she met Lloyd while visiting her mother in the hospital.  Both Lloyd and Doree’s mother were “old hippies” and they reminisced about “the outrageous people they had known, drug trips that had knocked them out, that sort of thing.” Doree’s mother dies of a embolism and she moves in with Lloyd.  Before her 17th birthday, she gets pregnant.  They move to the country and Sasha is born.

Back to the present, we meet Mrs. Sands who is anything but an old hippie.  Monro masterfully describes Mrs. Sands’ attire –

“Her large, kind, impersonal sobriety drained all assaulting cheerfulness, all insult out of those clothes.” 

Mrs. Sands and Doree have a conversation about Doree’s visits with Lloyd – his appearance, his manner.

Munro moves back to the family narrative.  When Sasha is 1 1/2, Barbara Ann is born.  When Barbara Ann is two, Dimitri comes along.  Dimitri is colicky and the La Leche lady encourages her to continue breastfeeding, not to supplement.  Doree has already started supplementing, but she doesn’t tell Lloyd.  She tells him her milk is dried up.  Lloyd

“…squeezed one breast after another with frantic determination and succeeded in getting a couple of drops of miserable-looking milk out.” 

He calls her a liar, and a whore like her mother.

As the story enfolds, the tension between Lloyd and Doree escalates.  He calls her friend Maggie,  “Lezzie” and demands to know what they talk about.  He tries to convince Doree that Maggie is trying to separate them.

“She’ll get you over there bawling and whining about what a bastard I am.  One of these days.”

Lloyd’s words, as paranoid as they are prove prophetic as Doree does leave for Maggie’s late one night when she is unable to “scare him out of his craziness”.  This sets the stage for the climax of the story which is both quite believable and haunting in its stark detail.

One Great Line:

“She was even allowed to laugh with him, as long as she wasn’t the one who started the laughing.”

A Spiritual Reflection:  (from Lloyd’s letter)

“What I know in myself is my own Evil.  That is the secret of my comfort.  I mean I know my Worst.  It may be worse than other people’s worst but in fact, I do not have to think or worry about that.  No excuses.  I am at peace.”

[Note:  If you have a short story to recommend that I read and review over the next month, I would appreciate you leaving word in the comments.]

image above JY Besle in Worlds Within Words { meanders and intricacies of my essential Sadness }

2 thoughts on “To Thine Own Self Be True: “Dimensions” by Alice Munro

  1. One of the reasons I love reading in general, and blogs in particular, is “the idea spark”—the feeling, the reaction, the stimulus I get, which drives me to write something of my own. That’s exactly what I got after reading this.

    Now I realize I need to urgently keep up with Julie and you. Although when you think about it, it is always urgent to keep up with our ever-growing reading list, isn’t it? Munro is high on my list, and after your post I can’t wait for her to slide up—and for that to become possible, I need to start reading faster so I can tick the top items off.

    Hence I will end this comment here.

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