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Probably the most noticeable aspect of “Meneseteung” is the way Munro weaves together the story’s point of view and structure. The tight structure, clearly delineated by numbering and introductory snippets from Almeda’s poems, allows Munro to make point-of-view shifts without reader confusion–aside from the confusion she intentionally invokes, which I would call a good kind of confusion, curiosity.

At the beginning, the narration is almost strictly essayistic. Aside from the comment, “. . . a soft beret, that makes me see artistic intentions . . .” (p. 477), the narrator holds himself (herself? I’ll assume it’s a “he”) back from the story. The analysis of rhyme scheme (p. 478-9) feels like something for a school essay, but comments like “Not a pretty girl” (p. 476) and colorful wording like “comically intentioned doggerel” (p. 478) seem more informal and personal, like someone’s musings to themselves or something he might write in a letter to a friend. Thus, even without having the narrator say anything about himself, Munro slowly builds his character through these instances of narrative voice.

It soon becomes clear that each section delves deeper into Almeda’s life. At first, the narration is distanced by time and place. The reader sees Almeda through her book alone. Then, the narrator steps out from the page enough to walk through Almeda’s town and observe her house, her street, and her neighborhood. The perspective remains distanced, however. Most of the description centers around the feel of the town as a whole. The closest the narrator comes to Almeda is the view of her house from the street and a few “facts” that the narrator should not know, such as that “Almeda Roth has never walked past the row housing” (p. 481). Even here, though, the present tense (“The population is younger than it is now . . .”, p. 480) pulls the reader deeper into the scene. In the next section, the narrative inches even closer. Almeda steps out of her house, a living character instead of a historical figure, and proceeds to have a conversation with Jarvis. The reader can hear the exact words she speaks to him, which is bewildering when one remembers that the narrator wasn’t witness to the conversation.

When they walk side by side, she can smell his shaving soap, the barber’s oil, his pipe tobacco, the wool and linen and leather smell of his manly clothes. (p. 485)

At this point, the reader first gets inside Almeda’s head, gaining access to her sensory experiences and her fantasies, although the narration remains somewhat distant, still slipping back into newspaper quotes, summaries of town opinion and standards of propriety, and even the occasional humorous comment by the narrator:

She does not invite him to come in–a woman living alone could never do such a thing. As soon as a man and woman of almost any age are alone together within four walls, it is assumed that anything may happen. Spontaneous combustion, instant fornication, an attack of passion. (p. 484)

At one point, there’s even a switch into Jarvis’s mind, although this is never repeated:

What Jarvis Poulter feels for Almeda Roth at this moment is just what he has not felt during all those circumspect walks and all his own solitary calculations of her probable worth, undoubted respectability, adequate comeliness. He has not been able to imagine her as a wife. Now that is possible. He is sufficiently stirred by her loosened hair–prematurely gray but thick and soft–her flushed face, her light clothing, which nobody but a husband should see. (p. 491)

As the story progresses, the narrator sinks more and more into the background, his commentary growing more subtle: 

He believes that her troubles would clear up if she got married. He believes this in spite of the fact that most of his nerve medicine is prescribed for married women. (p. 487)

At the same time, the POV becomes more and more intimate, until we are inside the house, inside Almeda’s head, watching the grape juice drip and the patterns in the dining room move. The narration here is no longer at all scholarly but rather frantic, chaotic, and overflowing:

All this can be borne only if it is channelled into a poem, and the word channelled is appropriate, because the name of the poem will be–it is–“The Meneseteung.” The name of the poem is the name of the river. No, in fact it is the river, the Meneseteung, that is the poem–with its deep holes and rapids and blissful pools under the summer trees and its grinding blocks of ice thrown up at the end of winter and its desolating spring floods. (p. 494)

I took this to be a complete shift in point of view, where the first person POV is utterly subsumed by this third person limited. Weirdly, then, Munro seems to follow a spectrum, to have eased the reader from one POV to another. Rather than changing suddenly with a paragraph break, as I’ve seen in other authors’ writing, it’s first clearly the narrator; then it’s somewhere in between; then it’s clearly Almeda’s.

But here, when the reader is most deeply inside Almeda’s mind, the story reaches an emotional climax. It then pulls sharply back, to the obituaries (connected to Almeda by time period and place, at least; the writer probably knew Almeda or had seen her from afar) and then to the narrator (connected to Almeda only by her book, and separated from her by roughly a century).

Again and again, this structure made me wonder what relevance Almeda has to the narrator. At first, my questions were along the lines of, “Who is the narrator and how much time separates him/her from Almeda?” By the middle sections, I was instead wondering, “How does the narrator know this?” By the end, of course, the narrator reveals that most of this is conjecture based on Almeda’s book and the town newspaper he so frequently cites. To my surprise, though, Munro never reveals much more about the narrator, such as an occupation or a reason to be so interested in Almeda. All I can assume from the text is that this history-hunting is a hobby for some people and that the mystery surrounding Almeda draws the narrator to investigate.

But why did Munro bother with this complicated POV switch instead of just telling the story in 3rd person limited the whole time? I’ve finally decided on a possible answer: A lot of the narrative momentum seemed to come from my constant questions about the nearly absent narrator, specifically about how the narrator could know these things and how he related to Almeda. I doubt I would have been as interested in a straightforward telling of this story. Just as the narrator is drawn to Almeda for her mystery, I’m drawn to her, and to the narrator, for their mystery.

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