Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Story Prize and Booker International Prize Shortlists, 2013

I try to read as many new short story collections as I possibly can, but even though, (compared with the novel) not that many short story collections are published each year, alas, I do not have the time to read them all.  I rely on the recommendations of my readers, other bloggers, reviewers, and friends.  I also pay special attention to the collections that get shortlisted for the various prizes.

Two important prizes that have recently announced their shortlists are the American-based Story Prize, and the British-based Man Booker International Prize. The Story Prize only considers collections of short stories, whereas the Man Booker International Award is given to a writer for his or her life’s work.  Of the ten authors (all identified as “novelists) who made the Man Booker shortlist, three are also well known for their short stories:

The Story Prize Shortlist for 2013

Stay Awake by Dan Chaon (Ballantine Books)
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (Riverhead Books)
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead Books)
(Winner will be announced on March 13, 2013)

The Man Booker International Prize Shortlisted Authors Known for Short Stories:

Lydia Davis
Peter Stamm
Josip Novakovich
(Winner will be announced on May 22)

I will be commenting on the three Story Prize shortlisted books during February and the following books of the three Man Booker authors known for their short stories during the month of March: 

Lydia Davis, The Collected Stories
Peter Stamm, We’re Flying,
Josip Novakovich, Infidelities, Yolk, and Salvation and Other Disasters

Also during February and March, I will also be reading the two collections of short stories from The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2012 that I had not yet previously read and commented on:

The Book of Mischief by Steve Stern
Married Love by Tess Hadley

If any of you are interested in reading along with me, I would be happy to discuss any of these ten books with you in the next couple of months.

I am working daily on my book on Reading the Short Story, aka How to Read Short Stories, and think I have a pretty good idea now what the structure of the book will look like.  I will be posting on my progress this spring and summer and hope to have the book finished by the fall.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Memoir or Story? Munro, Moody, and Me

I have been reading and rereading the four pieces in the “Finale” section of Alice Munro’s new collection Dear Life.  Munro calls them “not quite stories,” forming a unit that she calls “autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact.”  She says she believes they are “the first and last—and the closest—things I have had to say about my own life.”

I have already written about one of these memoirs—the title piece that appeared earlier in The New Yorker.”   You can find it by typing “dear life” in the “search” line on the top right. The remaining three pieces—“The Eye,” “Night,” and “Voices,”—are interesting to me because they provide the opportunity to explore the differences between “memoir” and “short story.”

As usual, I did a little research on this relationship between memoir and story by typing the following in Google: “memoir vs. short story.” And the first thing that came up was a blog entry I wrote three years ago, and damn all, if it didn’t focus on a story by Alice Munro (“Some Women.”)!  I am not sure I have anything new to say about the issue of memoir vs. story, vis-à-vis Alice Munro, but you never know until you start exploring.

Munro has said that she has based many of her stories on her own life.  That is not unusual, of course.  But the question I want to explore is: What is the difference between an anecdote of an actual event in one’s life and a short story based on that anecdote?

If you do some research on the memoir/fiction topic, you primarily will find discussions on the issue of “truth,” that is, did the event recounted “really happen”?  This is a common question members of the audience often pose to writers at “readings.”  Indeed, it is probably one of the first questions children ask when you tell them a bedtime story?  I used to tell my children a story about being chased by a huge bull while picking blackberries in a pasture near my childhood home.  They were more impressed with the story when I told them it really happened; they would have been less engaged if I had told them it was “made-up.”

This, of course, is one of the reasons why biographies and autobiographies are more popular than fiction; if the work is just a “story,” it seems less important, less interesting, less “real.”  The flap about James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces raised the ethical question about fictionalizing one’s life experiences and calling it “memoir.”  However, more pressing than the ethical question is the profit question:  Narratives billed as an account of what actually happened simply sell better than narratives labeled as fiction.

Although this issue is most often raised with long fictions, it does occasionally crop up with short fictions.  For example, when Rick Moody’s short piece "Demonology" was first published, it was listed as a memoir.  However, the following year, it was included in Prize Stories:  The O. Henry Awards for 1997.  When asked to comment on the work for the O. Henry Award collection, Moody said there were few things he has written that he would rather talk about less than this.  However, he once told an interviewer that he is always tying to muddy the surface of the nonfictional with fictional techniques by paying particular attention to form and structure.  What makes "Demonology" so affecting are Moody's efforts to transform a powerful personal experience into something that has universal significance. 

The title of the piece stems from the fact that the sister's death from arrhythmia takes place within the context of Halloween, her children dressed as demons and monsters, beating back the restless souls of the dead in search of sweets.  This demon motif is repeated throughout the story until ultimately the sister is transformed into a "revenant" that compels Moody to find a way to use language to communicate his grief.  The story ends with Moody, in a common self-referential tactic, considering how he should have constructed his memoir, telling himself he probably should have fictionalized it more, for example, conflating the sister's two children into one and making her boyfriend a husband.  He says he should have let artifice create an elegant surface for the story, thus making his sister's death shapely and persuasive rather than blunt and disjunctive. However, it is precisely the blunt, barely restrained, voice that makes the story so powerful.

As a student of the short story, what interests me most about the blurry line between story and memoir is not the ethical or the economical issue, but the aesthetic one: Is there a basic difference in technique and thematic significance between a short story and a short memoir?

We might ask, why did Alice Munro give us “The Eye” as a memoir rather than a story?  Was it because she felt the event that she recalls from when she was five years old—her first encounter with death—would not have yielded a complex story, but only a cliché?  Of course, it is unlikely that Munro can recall in such detail the events of something that happened when she was five; it is more likely that she recalls some of the events from what her mother has told her over the years, whereas other aspects of the recollection may have actually been invented over the years.  But what difference does that make?

Munro might very well have made the event recounted in “The Eye” into a story, for the child’s fascination with the romantic life of the hired girl Sadie and her ambiguous relationship with her mother can be seen in a number of Munro’s stories. The central thematic issue has something to do with the scene of the child looking down into the coffin and seeing the eyelid of the dead girl lifting just a tiny bit. This does not frighten the child, but rather it “falls into everything” that she knows about Sadie and also “into whatever special experience was owing to myself.”  There is a sense of recognition here, a sense of identity, not the sense that a five-year-old would feel, but rather a sense that a woman would later remember as a mutual understanding.

The short piece “Night” is a much more discursive account, based largely on thinking about something rather than on seeing or doing something.  We do not know the age of the child in this piece, but she is old enough, or young enough, to have some fantasies about strangling her younger sister during the night, and she loses sleep about it. Her brief talk with her father one night when she walks out of the house is enough to make her identify with him and to appreciate his wisdom. For when she tells him about her fantasies of strangling her sister, he says not to worry, for “People have those kinds of thoughts sometimes.”  And she knows that he has given her just what she needed to hear.

In “Voices,” Munro is ten years old and accompanies her mother to a dance in a home to which a prostitute has brought one of her girls.  But it is not the girl that so fascinates the young Munro; rather it is the talk she overhears of some of the Air Force men stationed nearby who try to comfort the young woman, and she marvels at how they bow down and declare themselves in front of her. Later, she thinks of those men, and hears their voices directed to her: “Their hands blessed my own skinny thighs and their voices assured me that I, too, was worthy of love.”  This fascination with mysterious sexuality and the risky business of becoming thought desirable to men is a common theme in many of Munro’s stories.  Of these three short memoir pieces, “Voices” is, because of this thematic echo, the closest to merging into the realm of fiction.

For me, the difference between the recounting of an actual event and a fictional event has nothing to do with whether the event actually occurred, but rather whether the event “means” anything.  My own experience with writing fiction is minimal. Although I have several notebooks of observations, recollections, and descriptions, I have only published two stories.  Both stories are based on actual events, although they did not all happen at the same time; rather they are disparate fragments that seemed to “go together” thematically.  I think putting the various “real life” events together in the way I did by providing for them a “point of view” actually resulted in “stories.”  However, I still have many recollections in my notebooks that remain simply that—recollections. I will provide one example of what I think is a recollection that could, with the right point of view and the right context, become a story.

When I was young, my maternal grandmother lived in the country on a farm, and I recall her in that rural context.  However, my father’s mother was a “city girl,” although the “city” where I lived was a small Kentucky mountain town of approximately 4,000 people.  My “city grandmother” seemed more sophisticated than my country grandmother, although she only had a high school education.  I have many memories of her, of course, but one image sticks in my mind, although I am not sure I ever actually saw it or whether I created it out of the “late show” 1940s movies that I stayed up and watched the whole summer the first year we got television. 

Here is the image: 

The Paintsville Hotel is on the main street of town, just two doors down from the Greyhound bus station, which I remember as the center of exciting activity.  Between the two is the Kentucky Cafe where I occasionally stopped to play the pinball machine and get a cherry joke.  In front of the Hotel the sidewalk is made of glass brick.  The barber shop, where my paternal grandfather, always dressed in a white shirt and black bowtie, cut my hair, was just below, and because he always keep a light on there all night, a glow came up through the glass bricks so that when you walked across them it was like something out a Busby Berkely musical.  What I remember is my grandmother in a black dress and a long black coat with a high fur collar. The collar is pushed up on her neck so that it met her short white hair.  She has on heels and I see her walking down the street toward me, past the bus station, past the Kentucky Cafe, and onto the glass bricks that give a radiance to her nyloned legs.  Her head is high, and her pelvis is thrust forward a bit; she looks slightly amused at something. She walks fast, her arms across her breasts, and the breeze her motion makes stirs the fur around her neck. 

That is only a memoir image, but placed in the right context with the right point of view, some meaningful narrative movement, and related thematic details, it could be a story, don’t  you think?  Whether it happened or not is not important.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Secret Life in the Short Story and William Trevor's "The Women"

Although many readers agree that Alice Munro and William Trevor are the two greatest short story writers in the world today, Munro, whose most recent book, Dear Life, has been on bestseller lists for several weeks, is the more active of the two and usually attracts more attention than Trevor when one of their stories appears in The New Yorker.

Trevor has not had a story in that magazine since “The Woman of the House” on Dec. 15, 2008, whereas Munro has published most of her Dear Life stories there in the past few years. (My blog entry on “The Woman of the House” is in my archives)

Although Munro’s stories, especially those in The New Yorker, often attracts a lot of blog review attention, Trevor’s new story, “The Women,” which appeared on January 14, 2013, has attracted very little, with the Irish Writing Blog opening with “it’s fair to say that the reaction to William Trevor’s latest New Yorker story has been a bit mixed.”

Indeed, on his blog, Clifford Garstang has called “The Women” a simple cliché story about an unwed mother who has given up her child and then later tries to find her, concluding that although William Trevor may be one of our greatest short story writers, “this one seems to have been written in his sleep.” So there, Mr. Trevor, wake up!

The writer on the blog entitled “New Yorker Story Critiques Blog,” says he/she likes the premise or the plot of the story, but “finds the execution lacking,” with lots of digressions and superfluities that “bleed the main story arc of tension.”  The blogger says he/she tried skipping over the offending sections and found the story “much improved.”  So there, Mr. Trevor, get yourself a decent editor and do it his/her way instead of your own!

On the other hand, there is the always thoughtful blog “The Mookse and The Gripes,” graciously managed by Trevor Berette, which opens with, “It was a beautiful thing to find a new William Trevor story in this week’s issue of The New Yorker.  Obviously reading the story more attentively than Clifford Garstang and the anonymous New Yorker Critiques blogger, Berette says “The Women” is about the kind of quiet sadness that does not go away as we age, admiring the “careful style that brings us so close to the source of pain and the desire to turn away from it that makes this such a powerful story…It’s the secret pain that these people feel they cannot share, so carefully rendered, that makes this story come to life.”  Indeed, and what also makes the story a classic of the genre.

I recommend that you take a look at the extended debate about Trevor’s “The Women” on “The Mookse and the Gripes” blog.  The reader Betsy provides a detailed close reading that tries to account for the story’s sense of secrecy and mystery by accusing the father of abuse of the daughter, similar to that in Nabokov’s Lolita.  Berette doesn’t think the background is that “sinister,” but Betsy is not to be denied, suspicious of the father/daughter travel in Europe and the priest who has arranged for the transfer of the child from unwed mother to unhappy father. Berette agrees there is something “haunting” about the story, even something a “bit creepy,” but does not think it is parental abuse.  Then reader Ken joins in, trying to mediate the debate over the something “sinister” in the story, concluding that the story is about the ambiguity of how lies can both serve us and harm us and others.  Betsy remains “concerned” for the young Cecilia.

Sensing that the debate about what is “secret and sinister” in the story has run its course, reader Ken concludes that the story is “endlessly interesting,” and (perhaps because it has created so much debate about the mystery behind the story), a “masterpiece.”  A new reader, Roger, agrees. And the debate ends with Betsy somewhat relieved about her fears of child abuse, hoping there will be another William Trevor coming along soon.

I summarize this little debate on The Mookse and the Gripes blog not only because I so enjoy good close readers energetically engaging with a complex short story, but because the sense of the sinister and secrecy and mystery evidenced in “The Women” seems to me to be so typical of the kind of human reality that the short story as a genre does so well.

I wrote a piece a few years ago about this “secret life” aspect of the short story as a genre, and would like to share a few passages in the hope that I might provide a context for understanding William Trevor’s story as well as the lively debate on The Mookse and The Gripes blog.

A central problem for short-story writers in the nineteenth century was how to use newly developed eighteenth-century conventions of realism to communicate spiritual meaning formerly explored allegorically in the mythic romance.  In the older tale or romance form, characters functioned as psychic projections of basic human fears and desires; in the new fiction, the characters had to be presented as if they were real.  Early nineteenth-century writers solved the problem by combining conventions of allegorical romance and realistic fiction.  In "Young Goodman Brown," for example, Hawthorne joined allegorical and realistic elements in an ambiguous mix of dream and reality in which his protagonist sometimes seems motivated by the demands of the allegory and sometimes by the demands of his own psyche.
            In "The Fall of the House of Usher," Edgar Allan Poe presented an “as if” real character entering the hermetically-sealed world of the artwork dominated by an obsessed and ultimately metaphoric character.  And in "Bartleby, the Scrivener," Herman Melville moved closer to realistic conventions by beginning with what appears to be the "real world,” only to have that world invaded by an emblematic character who transforms reality into metaphor.  The problem for all three of these early narrative experimentalists was how to bridge the gap between romance conventions, in which characters embody psychic states, and realistic conventions, in which characters possess individual psyches. By rejecting the supernatural and suggesting the strangeness of life as a function of individual psychology, the nineteenth-century short story no longer presented the drama of the clash between the sacred and the profane as existing in realm of the spiritual, but rather in the minds of the individual.
However, it is not until the end of the nineteenth century that Chekhov, the great master of the short story, perfected the form’s ability to present spiritual reality in realistic terms by focusing on the essentially mysterious and hidden nature of the basic human desire to transcend the everyday and live in the realm of spiritual reality.  Critic Peter Bitsilli has suggested that the complexity of Chekhov's characters leads us to feel there is something about them we do not understand, a something hidden from us, a something that is part of Chekhov's appeal.  Although the theme of the basic desire of the secret self could be illustrated in any number of Chekhov’s short fictions, the paradigmatic statement can be found in one of his most famous stories, “Lady with the Dog.”  Near the end of what seems to be merely an anecdotal tale of adultery, the central male character agonizes over the division he senses in himself.
He had two lives:  one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life, running its course in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental, conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest, and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people; and all that was false in him, the sheath in which he hid himself to conceal the truth—such, for instance, as his work in the bank, his discussions at the club, his “lower race,” his presence with his wife at anniversary festivities—all that was open.

 In Chekhov’s great story, the secrecy of Gurov’s idealized desire constitutes true reality for him, just as the sacred constituted true reality for primitive man and woman.  Indeed, in the modern short story, idealized human desire--unsayable, unrealizable, always hovering, like religious experience in the realm of the "not yet"--replaces the sacred revelation embodied in primal short-fiction forms.  When Anna leaves, Gurov thinks it has been just another episode or adventure in his life, nothing left but a memory that would visit him only from time to time.  But she haunts him, and he imagines her to be lovelier and himself to be finer than they actually were in Yalta.  The story ends with the couple agonizing about how to avoid the secrecy and to be free of their intolerable bondage.  “How?  How?” Gurov asks.  But, of course there is no answer, no way that the romantic, spiritual ideal they store up in their ghostly hearts can ever be actualized, except, of course, as it is manifested in the short story—as the immanent, the “not yet.”
             James Joyce confronted the quintessential problem of the modern short story in "The Dead": How is it possible for a realistic narrative to convey meaning and significance?  It is the same problem that Chekhov had to deal with--how to arrange concrete details in such a way that they develop into a pattern equivalent to theme.  Joyce's achievement in this story, its contribution to the development of the short story as a genre, can be best understood if we see its most basic theme as the difference between the kind of reality that realistic prose imitates and the kind of reality that romantic prose reveals. 
              Thematically, the conflict in "The Dead" that reflects its realistic/lyrical split is the difference revealed to both Gabriel and the reader between public life and private life, between life as it is in everyday experience and life perceived as the objectification of desire. The party portion of "The Dead" is the story of Gabriel's public life, and his only psychic interest is what kind of figure he is going to cut publicly.  However, throughout the party period of the story, there are moments--particularly those moments that focus on the past, on music, and on marital union--when reality is not presented as here and now, but as a mixture of memory and desire.   Thematically, the basic issue the story poses is:  In which one of these realms does true reality reside?   Gabriel's discovery at the end of the story is not only that his wife has an inner life inaccessible to him but that his own life has been an outer life only. Filled with desire and the memory of intimacy, wishing Gretta to at one with him, Gabriel is annoyed that she seems so distracted.  When he discovers that she has a secret life that has nothing to do with him, he tries to use his typical public devices of irony, but the very simplicity of her story undercuts the effort, and he sees the inadequacy of his public self. 
             In the much-discussed lyrical ending of "The Dead," Gabriel confronts the irony that the dead Michael is more alive than he is.  "Generous tears" fill his eyes because he knows that he has never lived the life of desire, only the untransformed life of the everyday.  The ending, in which Gabriel, awake and alone while his wife sleeps beside him, allows himself to lose self and imaginatively merge into a mythic lyrical sense of oneness, makes it possible for the reader to begin the story over again with this end in mind.  "The Dead" is not a story that can be understood the way most novels are read--one thing after another--but the way the modern short story must be read--aesthetically patterned in such a way that only the end makes the rest of the story meaningful. 
             The theme of the inaccessibility of the private life and the inadequacy of public life is most emphatically explored in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio The most frequent remark made about the characters in Winesburg, Ohio is that they are psychic deformities, cut off from society, adrift in their own consciousness.  The story that most centrally focuses on Anderson’s effort to explore the secret life of his Winesburg grotesques is “Hands.”  Anderson’s suggestion that the secret of Biddlebaum's hands is a job for a poet is part of the basic change in the short story signaled by Chekhov.  Anderson struggles with the problem of the prose writer trying to communicate something subtle and delicate, feeling the words are clumsy, for all he has are the events and explanation.  What he needs is a way to use language the way the poet does, to transcend language. 
              The hidden, secret self is a persistent characteristic of the modern short story as a genre, understood by writers who know the form well and have mastered it.  This could easily be illustrated in any number of well-known stories by Andre Dubus, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, and other modern masters of the form.  For example, in Munro’s best work, the hidden story of emotion and secret life, communicated by atmosphere and tone, is always about something more enigmatic and unspeakable than the story generated by characters and what happens next. 
            William Trevor’s “The Women” is a story about how “fragments make a whole,” about loss, melancholy, uncertainty, secrecy, need, desperation, desire for the truth, fear of the truth, being of two minds, playing roles, being haunted by the past, having regrets, hating the truth, making something better than the truth, abandoning “stern reality for what imagination more kindly offered.”  The story ends with Cecilia not knowing the truth, for her father has chosen not to tell her, and thinking that the two women have invented this “shadowland” and kept it alive in the “bluster of daring and pretense.”   Although Cecilia knows this is a flimsy exercise in supposition, both tenuous and vague, she reaches out for its “whisper of consoling doubt.” 
The hidden story of emotion and secret life, communicated by atmosphere, tone, and mood is always about something more unspeakable, more mysterious, than the story generated by the reader’s focus on characters and on what happens next.  The genius of the short story form is that whereas they often could indeed be the seedbeds of novels, they do not communicate as novels do.  And if we try to read them as if they were novels, they will never haunt us with their sense of that mysterious secret life within all of us.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Three Endings of Alice Munro’s story “Corrie”

Like all good short-story writers, Alice Munro often makes revisions to her stories between the time they first appear in a journal or magazine and when they appear later in an anthology or in a collection under her own name.  She has twice made changes to the ending of her short story “Corrie,” which first appeared in the Oct. 11, 2010 issue of The New Yorker—first in The PEN/O. Henry Awards anthology and second in her latest collection, Dear Life.  She also changed the name of one of the characters in the Dear Life version of the story from Sadie to Lillian.

 The story focuses on Corrie’s affair with a married man named Howard Ritchie.  Howard tells Corrie that he and his wife have gone to a dinner party and saw the woman Sadie Wolfe (Lillian Wolfe in Dear Life), who once worked for Corrie. He says he later received a letter from this woman, threatening to tell his wife about his affair with Corrie.

Later in the story when Sadie/Lillian dies, Corrie goes to a reception following the funeral and meets a woman who Sadie/Lillian also worked for.  All who knew Sadie/Lillian agree that she was blessed, a rare person. Later that night, Corrie thinks about all this and realizes that Sadie/Lillian was not the kind of person to blackmail anyone.  (Maybe Munro changes her name from “Sadie” to “Lillian” because whereas a woman named Sadie might be a blackmailer, a woman named Lillian might not.)

One of the ambiguities of the story results from the point of view Munro uses when Howard tells Corrie about the blackmail threat. The dinner party encounter is described primarily not as if Howard is telling Corrie about it, but rather as if it actually happened, although all Corrie and the reader know about the blackmail threat comes from Ritchie’s account. Munro makes a minor change in the Dear Life version to remind us that Ritchie’s story is the only account we have:

New Yorker version:  “Howard did not tell Corrie about the dinner party right away, because he hoped it would become unimportant.”

Dear Life version: “Howard said that he had not told Corrie about the dinner party right away, because he hoped it would become unimportant.”

One clue in all three versions that Ritchie has invented the letter from Sadie/Lillian is Howard’s quote from the letter: “I would hate to have to break the heart of such a nice lady with a big silver-fox collar on her coat.”  To this, Corrie responds, “How would Sadie know a silver-fox collar from a hole in the ground…? Are you sure that’s what she said.”  When Ritchie replies, “I’m sure,” Corrie says, “She’s learned things then.”  A bit later, Corrie says that Sadie/Lillian was not this smart before. However, when Corrie goes to the funeral reception and hears what others have said about Sadie/Lillian before she died, she knows that Sadie/Lillian has not learned to be scheming. 

Now, let’s look at the changes Munro makes in the ending of the story:

The New Yorker Oct 11, 2010 version:

           She gets up and quickly dresses and walks through every room in the house, introducing the walls and the furniture to this new idea.  A cavity everywhere, most notably in her chest.  She makes coffee and doesn’t drink it.  She ends up in her bedroom once more, and finds that the introduction to the current reality has to be done all over again.
            But then there is a surprise.  She is capable, still of shaping up another possibility.
            If he doesn’t known that Sadie is dead he will just expect things to go on as usual.  And how would he know, unless he is told? And who would he be told by, unless by Corrie herself?
            She could say something that would destroy them, but she does not have to.
            What a time it has taken her, to figure this out.
            And after all, if what they had—what they have—demands payment, she is the one who can afford to pay.
            When she goes down to the kitchen again she goes gingerly, making everything fit into its proper place.

The Pen/O.Henry Awards version, published April 2012:

          She gets up and quickly dresses and walks through every room in the house, introducing the walls and the furniture to this new idea.  A cavity everywhere, most notably in her chest.  She makes coffee and doesn’t drink it.  She ends up in her bedroom once more, and finds that the introduction to the current reality has to be done all over again.
            But then there is a surprise.  She is capable, still of shaping up another possibility.
            If he doesn’t known that Sadie is dead he will just expect things to go on as usual.  And how would he know, unless he is told? And who would he be told by, unless by Corrie herself?
            She could say something that would destroy them, but she does not have to.
            What a time it has taken her, to figure this out.
             She could say right now, what does it matter? Whatever goes on will go on.  Someday, she supposes, there will have to be an end to itBut in the meantime, if what they had—what they have—demands payment, she is the one who can afford to pay.
            When she goes down to the kitchen again she goes as if gingerly, making everything fit into a proper place.
            She has calmed down mightily. All right.            But in the middle of her toast and jam she thinks, No.            Fly away, why don’t you, right now? Fly away.            What rot.            Yes. Do it.

Dear Life version, published by Knopf, November 15, 2012.
(The Canadian version was published by Douglas Gibson Books on Oct. 13, 2012)

         She gets up and quickly dresses and walks through every room in the house, introducing the walls and the furniture to this new idea.  A cavity everywhere, most notably in her chest.  She makes coffee and doesn’t drink it.  She ends up in her bedroom once more, and finds that the introduction to the current reality has to be done all over again.
         The briefest note, the letter tossed.        ‘Lillian is dead, buried yesterday.’        She sends it to his office, it does not matter.  Special delivery, who cares?       She turns off the phone, so as not to suffer waiting.  The silence.  She may simply never hear again.        But soon a letter, hardly more to it than there was to hers.       ‘All well now, be glad. Soon.’       So that’s the way they’re going to leave it.  Too late to do another thing.  When there could have been worse, much worse.

The issue, of course, is whether Corrie will tell Ritchie that Sadie/Lillian is dead, and whether she will also tell him that she knows about his lie and his taking her money all these years. However, if she tells him she knows, she will have to end the relationship, and she does not want to do that.

In The New Yorker version, Corrie has not decided whither to tell him that Sadie/Lillian is dead, therefore allowing him to continue to take her money.

The PEN/O.Henry version emphasizes her vacillation between telling him what she knows and not telling him anything.

In the Dear Life version, Corrie has decided to tell Ritchie about Lillian’s death, but she has decided not to tell him that she knows of his lie and his money scheme. 

By telling Ritchie that Lillian is dead, Corrie effectively ends his taking more money from her, for now that she knows the money goes to Ritchie directly, she would feel as if she were paying for his company. The fact that Ritchie replies, “All well now, be glad.  Soon” means that the relationship can continue, for Corrie believes that Ritchie is not staying with her just for the money.

As far as I can determine, Munro has not made public why she made these changes to the ending of “Corrie.”  The Dear Life version may placate some readers who had no sympathy for Corrie’s reluctance in The New Yorker version to tell Ritchie about Sadie’s death.  But readers still may fault Corrie for not telling Ritchie that she knows about his secret. But how can she fault Ritchie for his secret about the money when she wants him to continue to maintain his secret about their relationship? 

I would be interested in hearing what my readers have to say about these three different endings to “Corrie.”