Alice Munro's story "Fits" in her collection The Progress of Love is both interesting and perplexing. (Possible spoilers to follow). Interesting because it deals with a murder-suicide (which kind of feels like unusual ground for an Alice Munro story--but then again maybe not, since I think the point isn't exactly the murder-suicide but how people react to it). Perplexing because the story felt rather open ended. I think the questions Munro was asking weren't really answered. As always though, I think an Alice Munro story can easily be read and reread and new things found each time.
Once again she begins with a teaser of a first sentence. "The people who died were in their early sixties." The couple had dropped by Peg and Robert Kuiper's house on Boxing Day for cocktails. They are neighbors in the small town of Gilmore and had just recently returned from a trip to Mexico. The story quickly turns to Peg and Robert, however, and their marriage and history together. She, divorced with two sons, and he returned to the town to take over his father's chain of stores. Munro strings together bits of facts moving back and forth between the Kuipers and the discovery of their dead neighbors.
"It was entirely by accident that Peg was the one who found them."
She had been dropping off eggs from a local farmer to the Weebles when she realized something was amiss. When Robert had left for work in the morning he wondered about the fact that the Weebles' car was in the drive but their sidewalks hadn't been cleared of snow. He'd understood that the Weebles hadn't been at home so was confused by the pristine pile of snow in front of their house. He hadn't thought beyond that, however. Such mundane details that you take in but don't process. This story is filled with them.
It's almost halfway into the story that the realization dawns that something awful has happened. Not just the death of the Weebles, but the fact that husband killed wife and then turned the rifle on himself. What's more interesting is how Peg responds to the murder and how her reaction, or lack thereof, irritates those around her.
"For a Gilmore person, Peg is reserved. She came up to the woman and relieved her of the eggs she was holding, while Robert went on assuring her that it was no trouble and asking about the daughter-in-law's pregnancy. Peg smiled as she would smile in the store when she gave you change--a quick transactional smile, nothing personal, She is a small slim woman with a cap of soft brown hair, freckles, and a scrubbed, youthful look. She wears pleated skirts, fresh neat blouses buttoned up to the throat, pale sweaters, sometimes black ribbon tie. She moves gracefully and makes very little noise. Robert once told her he had never met anyone so self-contained as she was. (His women have usually been talkative, stylishly effective, though careless about some of the details, tense, lively, 'interesting.')"
"Peg said she didn't know what he meant."
She found the bodies, then got into her car and went to the police to explain what she saw. Then arrived at the family's store to begin work not bothering to tell the clerk or call her husband, who had been working out of town, with the news of what she had encountered earlier. "I knew you'd find out pretty soon", she replies to the clerk when asked why she never mentioned the news.
Gilmore is a small town and naturally everyone is curious about what happened and the townspeople are busy putting forward all sorts of theories as to why. Robert gets the story first from the local sheriff at the diner where he stopped to eat and then later from Peg at home. Throughout the telling she's calm, as calm as she was when she found the bodies. Speculation over the nature of the relationship the Weebles has turns to memories by her son of Peg's relationship with her first husband. And the fights they had, which her son thought would end in bloodshed as well, which shocks Peg.
"Robert believed it was time that he said something."
"'What this is like,' he said, 'it's like an earthquake or a volcano. It's a kind of fit. People can take a fit like the earth takes a fit. But it only happens once in a long while. It's a freak occurrence'."
"'Earthquakes and volcanoes aren't freaks, said Clayton (Peg's son), with a certain dry pleasure. 'If you want to call that a fit, you'd have to call it a periodic fit. Such as people have, married people have'."
"'We don't,' said Robert. He looked at Peg as if waiting for her to agree with him."
But she doesn't. She doesn't say anything.
Fits and fights. Maybe lies. Is not telling the facts the same as telling a lie? A detail, a discrepancy in the story. What was left out? Peg's version of events doesn't quite match the explanation by the police constable of the scene. So the perplexing bit is why Peg lied. Again, an interesting juxtaposition of a murdered married couple, a marriage (Peg and Robert) which seems happy enough, and the little cracks beneath the surface (well, the cracks perhaps began in former relationships), or the possibility of cracks happening in the surface to Peg and Robert.
Why does reading an Alice Munro story seem like such an easy thing when you're doing it, but when you're writing about it after the fact becomes so much more complicated?