The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro: Summary and Review

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Where would your mind take you if someone said the words ‘the love of a good woman’ to you?

If your mind quickly takes you to classic romantic movies of yore, a wife tirelessly sacrificing her life for her husband, you are the same as the rest of us.

What’s more is that this titular story from this short story collection by Alice Munro is going to take you and that notion of yours for a ride.

The Love of a Good Woman: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story is a four part plot that starts in Walley. The first part – Jutland – begins with a museum.

A very strange exhibit is being displayed in the museum, a red box containing medical instruments which were once owned by an optometrist D.M. Willens.

Mr. Willens tragically drowned in the Peregrine river, in what seemed like an accident. The submerged body and car were discovered by three young boys – Cece, Bud and Jimmy.

Bud and Jimmy fail to inform their parents of their discovery, feel guilty about not doing so the first day. They try to go and meet Mrs. Willens, who seems to be completely unaware of her husband’s absence, hands the boys flowers to take home and retires back home.

The news does finally reach the police and Mr. Willens death is now known, and three of those boys have new nickname now: Deadman.

Part two makes an abrupt change to what seems like a completely different setting. (This reminded me of the time when I first read the Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle and the abrupt plot change somewhere in the middle).

We are now tracing the life of Enid, a saintly soul as her mother calls her, is a middle aged nurse. She is currently employed by the Quinns, taking care of an ailing Mrs. Quinn, who is dying of a kidney failure.

Mr. Quinn is a farmer and an old classmate of Enid’s. They have two daughters.

Mr Quinn is shown to be a silent man, while Mrs Quinn is a cranky woman, who constantly whines about everything including her husband’s absence, albeit a lack of it doesn’t seem to comfort her much.

Enid, who is regarded by her mother as a saint for her selflessness, is constantly tormented by erotic dreams and is ashamed by them.

Part three connects the earlier two parts of the story by establishing a link between Mr Willens and this family, when one fine day, Mrs Quinn starts talking to Enid about Mr Willen’s death.

In her version of the events that led up to Mr WIllen’s death, Mr Willens, a lecherous old man, was touching her inappropriately while examining her.

Rupert, having witnessed this, in a rage of passion, grabs Mr Willens and bangs his head on the floor till he dies.

Suddenly realizing that Mr Willens is dead, Mrs Quinn proposes to dispose of the body in the nearby river in his car so as to make it look like an accident. She helps Mr. Quinn carry out this plan.

In a flashback, it is also shown how Enid having once seen his father with another woman, is silenced by her mother saying that it might have been a figment of her imagination

Fourth part of the story deals with the events that follow Mrs. Quinn’s death.

Enid, who seems to have developed feelings for Mr Quinn, is torn between her desire for companionship and her moral obligation to do what is right, which is to expose Rupert for the crime he committed.

There is no way for her to be sure that Mrs Quinn’s version of events was real or a figment of her imagination spouted by her disturbed mind in a diseased body. She devises a scheme to test Rupert, by asking him to row her out in the middle of the river and then letting him know what Mrs. Quinn told her.

Rupert will then have the choice to kill her and remove all the evidence of his crime.

The story closes with Rupert getting the oars while Enid waits for him and her fate at the riverbank. What happens next, is totally left to reader’s imagination.

Want to read The Love of a Good Woman?

The Love of a Good Woman is a short story which is published in a collection of short stories called The Love of a Good Woman. This collection won the Giller Prize and National Book Critics circle prize. You can use the links given below to check the price of this book:

Check Price on Amazon US
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The Love of a Good Woman: Review and My Thoughts

This short story collection by Munro went on to win many accolades – including the prestigious Giller Prize and National Book Critics Circle prize.

There is a reason why this story is celebrated the way it is. Such an astute description of a world built on lies! How change of perspective completely changes the story and that perception, more often than not is usually based off only a cursory understanding of events. The deeper you go, the more you discover.

It’s endearing to see that how remarkably real her characters are. As always she does magic with her kid characters, the way only she can. Consider for example the time that she has spent with the three kids – Cece, Bud and Jimmy.

The way she captures their innocence and their dark worlds is haunting.

Some endearing quotes from The Love of a Good Woman

And yet they hardly thought of each other as friends. They would never have designated someone as a best friend or a next best friend, or joggled people around in this position as girls did.

This brought back a flurry of childhood memories, where nothing in the world mattered more than your  friend reciprocating the esteemed honor of best friendship bestowed upon them.

Those walking home for dinner were mostly men. The women were already there- they were there all the time. But some women of middle age worked in store or offices for the reasons that were not their fault.

A little depiction of what the old world looked like, where women had very specific responsibilities in the family, it’s hard to believe that this was our world not very long ago. Working women a fault. Hmm.. Oh how the times have  changed and thanks for that!

A little sibling jocularity coming from Munro is the sweetest kind. This does not fail to put a nostalgic smile to my face every time I read it.

In a family of mostly females, a boy remarks about his sisters

“They stationed  themselves in front of every mirror in the house with the shelf underneath always loaded with bobby pins, pennies, buttons, bits of pencils”. Ah, the young vanity!

And then the sibling playfulness, the elder and the mighty playing with a younger one’s limited understanding of things around.

“Look, She’s putting lumps in the mashed potatoes again. He had his brother convinced that lumps were something that you added , like raisins to a rice pudding from a supply in the cupboard”

This is a perfect description of a mother with too many quarelling young kids to manage. This is in fact too real for me.

“Leave that pie alone. Stop swearing. Stop tattle-telling. Grow up”

You would feel that this can not be topped. Yet Munro seamlessly transitions from the children’s world to the adult world staying as true to the characters, as it possibly can be done. I marvelled at her deft maneuvering of both the worlds.

“Enid thought she knew what this meant, this spite and venom, the energy saved for ranting. Mrs.Quinn was flailing about for an enemy. Sick people grew to resent well people, and sometimes that was true of husbands and wives, or even of mothers and their children.”

By the time I was done reading the novel, I wondered and wondered, went on a lot of journeys. To the past and to the future. To memories with my siblings, to my classmates growing up, my girlfriends, my workplace, my mother, and that’s hell of an after effect of any story one could read. 

Alice Munro is often touted as Master of Contemporary short stories. And this book is a window to the reason behind that.


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