Reader Response: Train (Alice Munro)

Alice Munro’s Train is not a story that lends itself easily to summary, or quick understanding, for that matter.  I am honestly having a difficult time formulating what I would want to stay about this story, predominantly because I can’t pinpoint the role of the war within it.  I am accustomed to analyzing the role of war within any story as the main point of concern and source of change, but I feel like that is completely overshadowed by the theme of sexual abuse or sexuality in general.  I can’t seem to connect how the war-forged parts of this story might tie into the sexually motivated parts, aside from the fact that both war and rape are acts that can involve a person without their consent and radically change a person’s ability to function in the world. This connection also provides, for me at least, an understanding of why Munro spent so long getting the reader of Train involved in the life that Jackson builds with Belle before taking it away with no reward or logical explanation. It was extremely jarring and unpleasant to be waiting for the story to pay off—or at least continue on the same tracks it was headed down—only to have it abandon you and bombard you with a new, unmentioned, unrelated story. If Munro was attempting to write a story whose form mimics the content in the sense that we, as people, don’t always get to choose or end up with what we want, I feel she succeeded.

I also particularly liked the characterizations of the creepy Mennonites and of Belle. Regarding the former, the Mennonites were a haunting collective from the first moment that they were mentioned, and their presence in the area that Belle was living in gave a very The Village-esque feel to the setting. This feeling stuck with me throughout the story and did a really good job of keeping the eerie tone that I think Munro wanted the reader to feel to better relate or react to Jackson and Belle in the end. Belle was an overtly interesting character as well. A lot of description went into her history and her present, down to the fact that the majority of the story took place in her house. In this way, the reader was almost misdirected away from thinking about Jackson and Jackson’s odd choices throughout the story, which also helps exaggerate the impact of later messages.

Train was a very stimulating, almost puzzle-like tale to read. I can’t help feeling like there are a hundred things I missed as a first read-through, which I enjoy in a short story for the satisfaction of going back and figuring it out.

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