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The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion
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Author:  Chris OConnor [ Thu Mar 01, 2018 11:09 am ]
Post subject:  The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

The Hunter's Wife

By Anthony Doerr


You can read the short story The Hunter's Wife online absolutely free. And then share your feelings about the story in this thread. :-)




It was the hunter's first time outside Montana. He woke, stricken still with the hours-old vision of ascending through rose-lit cumulus, of houses and barns like specks deep in the snowed-in valleys, all the scrolling country below looking December—brown and black hills streaked with snow, flashes of iced-over lakes, the long braids of a river gleaming at the bottom of a canyon. Above the wing the sky had deepened to a blue so pure he knew it would bring tears to his eyes if he looked long enough.

Now it was dark. The airplane descended over Chicago, its galaxy of electric lights, the vast neighborhoods coming clearer as the plane glided toward the airport—streetlights, headlights, stacks of buildings, ice rinks, a truck turning at a stoplight, scraps of snow atop a warehouse and winking antennae on faraway hills, finally the long converging parallels of blue runway lights, and they were down.

He walked into the airport, past the banks of monitors. Already he felt as if he'd lost something, some beautiful perspective, some lovely dream fallen away. He had come to Chicago to see his wife, whom he had not seen in twenty years. She was there to perform her magic for a higher-up at the state university. Even universities, apparently, were interested in what she could do. Outside the terminal the sky was thick and gray and hurried by wind. Snow was coming. A woman from the university met him and escorted him to her Jeep. He kept his gaze out the window.

>>> Continue reading The Hunter's Wife

Author:  Litwitlou [ Fri Mar 02, 2018 4:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

.
.
A love story. She's the mystic, beautiful, spiritual, on a vision quest. He's the pragmatist, older, a killer, overcoming the forces of nature with physical prowess and a disciplined mind.
The attraction between two people who are polar opposites may be wildly passionate and passionately violent. He throws away what he considers her ill-gotten money and calls her a con and a grifter feeding on people's pain. She slaps his face and increases the distance between them until their bond snaps.

The author wrote an end to the story; a wonderful thing these days when so many stories are left hanging in the air for people to read into them what they wish, or, more often, feel frustrated.

At the end they are metaphorically pinned against their glass reflection as he was physically pinned to the window glass by the weather at the beginning.

He reaches for her hand. Is this a fairy tale ending? More likely it means he finally accepts her and her intangible gift as good and honest.

That's all I got. Possibly because you deep thinkers made me go first.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Fri Mar 02, 2018 9:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

Litwitlou wrote:
A love story.
Ya think?

Litwitlou wrote:
She's the mystic, beautiful, spiritual, on a vision quest. He's the pragmatist, older, a killer, overcoming the forces of nature with physical prowess and a disciplined mind.
Well said.

The imagery in this story is so gorgeous. It reminds me of Mary Oliver's poetry. Everything is itself, and itself evokes so much more, in the fully loving mind of the poet. My brother-in-law lived in rural Wyoming for a while, up in Longmire country. The descriptions of winter capture the bleakness and the danger and the beauty.

He is still a prisoner of it. He has a good job, teaching history at a university. He loves his job. But he wants to retire to prairie country, or at least mountains. I don't know what his wife is going to do, but I am pretty sure she would like to move to a big city. He can hardly imagine anything worse.

The play on "magic" is also beautiful, in a way only intellectual elegance can play. What she does is imagery for what a writer does, and it is known in the consciousness community that true writing heals. To have the wild thing come alive in your mind is to see what animates it. To smell the bear. To know what the bear dreams of. To never again live without access to the bear.

A vision quest? That took me by surprise, but yes. That's what it is. To become herself, she endures deprivation and a very unfocused openness. Waiting for the wildness to be present to her. The long winter, and the coyote invasion, is the moment when the quest reaches a violent revelation. So her name is the Hunter's Wife.

He is pragmatic, living by his disciplined wits. And he is captivated by her. He cannot resist following her, pressing on her the rhubarb pie that gives pungency to the bleak life of the prairie. She is the one thing that makes his life more than a succession of pragmatic choices and careful moves, making sure he is downwind of the prey. She gives his life meaning, as every man understands who has waited for his true love. He gives her everything he can, but not belief, because he doesn't have that in him.

Litwitlou wrote:
He throws away what he considers her ill-gotten money and calls her a con and a grifter feeding on people's pain. She slaps his face and increases the distance between them until their bond snaps.
How do women do it? To be the sole object of a another person's passion, the center of meaning in their world, must be destabilizing. How can she find her feet, and live a real life, with that around her? And then to find that after all he's just a guy, just a person, just a mortal. That he falls back on his old self just when she is finding the meaning of her new self.

Litwitlou wrote:
He reaches for her hand. Is this a fairy tale ending? More likely it means he finally accepts her and her intangible gift as good and honest.
She reaches out to him, and, in a way it apparently has not happened before (the others had to be in physical contact with her) he sees the vision as well. Grace. The spark.

Litwitlou wrote:
That's all I got. Possibly because you deep thinkers made me go first.
Be nice. Besides, that's not all you got. Because life keeps bringing new wildness. Touch it.

In case it isn't clear, I loved this story. Not, "liked it a whole lot," but loved it. I want to caress it and commune with it. I miss the fiction in the Atlantic magazine.

Author:  Litwitlou [ Fri Mar 02, 2018 12:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

Harry Marks wrote:

Be nice. Besides, that's not all you got. Because life keeps bringing new wildness. Touch it.

In case it isn't clear, I loved this story. Not, "liked it a whole lot," but loved it. I want to caress it and commune with it. I miss the fiction in the Atlantic magazine.


I'm nice. My sense of humor has wicked ways. Next month is my birthday and I'm going to resubscribe to The Atlantic (I miss it, too)
and The New Yorker. I won't be paying for them -- that's what birthday gifts are for.

Hell of a good story. Gave me more to think about than many novels I've read.

(Except for the parts where he was constantly digging his truck out of the snow. Been there. It sucks.)

Author:  Harry Marks [ Fri Mar 02, 2018 3:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

My brother-in-law rolled his jeep when he hit a patch of black ice one evening, hurrying home in Wyoming. No injury but it totaled the jeep. I tend to stay in when the weather hits freezing, and I love being old enough that I can do that.

He took us out hunting on one wintry visit, and we saw the big chunks of ice that had jumbled together from upstream in the river. Dangerous when they break up in spring, he said. We also saw a Canada goose that had legs frozen in the ice (like the bird in the story), from falling asleep on the water, he told us. It waited pretty patiently while we got near enough for him to shoot it. He felt a little bad to take such an easy shot but said a fox or coyote would get it if he didn't, and he was going to cook and eat it.

Author:  DWill [ Sun Mar 04, 2018 7:49 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

As the Romans said, "De gustibus non est disputandum." The story is of a genre, or at least of a style, that isn't to my taste. I had tried to read Doer's novel All the Light We Cannot See, but stopped halfway through. This story leans more toward fantasy than the novel did, but I found in each case that the writing, which many have found wonderful, to be, again, not to my taste. I go along with Barbara Kingsolver, who in an introduction to a story anthology said she used a pretty strict criterion of accuracy in making her selections. The facts are important to her. Well, she was a grad student in biology, so that might explain why. It's not that I don't like when things get strange in fiction--I do, but I need the strangeness to arise from real circumstances so that I see the strangeness as earned. Alice Munro, for one, has a realistic sensibility, but she works some "magic" nevertheless.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Sun Mar 04, 2018 11:15 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

DWill wrote:
As the Romans said, "De gustibus non est disputandum." The story is of a genre, or at least of a style, that isn't to my taste.

It's not that I don't like when things get strange in fiction--I do, but I need the strangeness to arise from real circumstances so that I see the strangeness as earned.

My first reaction was a shrug, like "Huh. Oh, well." And my main reaction is still, well, yeah, people are different. But I got to thinking about the previous time when a different perspective of yours caught my attention, and I am thinking they are linked cases, and may have something interesting to say.

I believe it was you who once said you have clients (maybe singular) to whom you recommend church as a way to experience social support and interaction. You acknowledged that the social process was beneficial, but said you were not interested because you can't believe the language and stories (of the supernatural, I will interpret).

So the common factor with the reaction to this kind of story seems to be finding certain kinds of unreality to be unpalatable. Whereas I tend to find them intriguing . . . "what would that be like?" and later, "why would someone think to tell a story like that?"

A good friend whose mother was a children's librarian and who, therefore, had fantasy stories put in her hands from a young age, found she could not enjoy the Redwall series. "Talking animals? Give me a break!" I'm guessing you have similar reactions to most fantasies - going through wardrobes into the snowy world of Narnia, the troll and fairy cultures of Artemis Fowl, etc. Unearned weirdness, to borrow your phrasing.

Whereas to me the suspension of disbelief was a waiting process to see why I should care about this particular piece of fabulous invention, and eventually it came home to me as obvious and beautiful, you weren't really interested in the question because it was fabulous invention. Or at least, that's how I'm reading your explanation.

But there is also the matter of the style. I am not quite sure how to explain Doerr's style: "burnished prose"? "intensely focused"? "artificial" in the manner of surrealist paintings rather than in the manner of impressionist paintings (which are, also, artificial)?

To some extent his approach to the plot flow reflects his style, I think. It is sort of "closed", meaning that he does not leave matters dynamically open to where the characters might take it, but rather has a set of symbols to explore and so lets the characters do what is demanded by the symbolism.

Some commentator on writing, perhaps Anne Lamott, argued that good fiction explores what the characters "would do" - what a person who is like that would naturally do or say in the situation in which they find themselves. But there is more than one way to explore that "necessity" or "implication."

One was is the way Doerr seems to represent to us with the imagery of the woman's gift in the story: let the character be "wild" and so the writer must intuitively grasp what life feels like to them, and then represent the reaction that follows. It is part of many writers' advice to other writers to go deep into, as it were, their subconscious - to let images rise to the surface from the wild places within, and trust that these images will represent what really matters about the issues they are wrestling with. Or at least that the ones they can't get a response to (internally, consciously) are therefore not revealing any hidden meanings to them. Call this approach "letting the character speak in their own voice."

Another way, though, of representing what a character "would do" is to perceive a process in real life and then set out to "show, not tell" what that process is like. The character is then a bit of a puppet, but the writer has the task of bringing the puppet to life. I would argue that's what Doerr actually did: he had in mind a certain metaphor for what good writing is like, and made the characters fit the metaphor. The question is whether the characters come to life anyway. For example, does the visit that frames the story, and the spark that leaps at the end, sound right for what people in that set of circumstances "would do"? And does it adequately represent the response of a pragmatic realist who finally "gets" what his empathetic, visionary true love is doing?

I have a feeling that for you, that question recedes into the background if the situation is too unrealistic. Fine if Hugo brings to life Jean Valjean as a "puppet" or Dickens brings to life Fagin, but you can't get into the question of whether Sydney Carton, the lookalike barrister in "Tale of Two Cities", comes to life because the lookalike coincidence is too unrealistic.

Quote:
Alice Munro, for one, has a realistic sensibility, but she works some "magic" nevertheless.
Not having read more than one or two stories by Munro, I would be pleased if you could say more about how that worked.

Author:  DWill [ Tue Mar 06, 2018 8:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

Harry Marks wrote:
My first reaction was a shrug, like "Huh. Oh, well." And my main reaction is still, well, yeah, people are different. But I got to thinking about the previous time when a different perspective of yours caught my attention, and I am thinking they are linked cases, and may have something interesting to say.

Right, my reaction, too, is pretty much the shrug, because people do have different things they like. That's why I thought the Roman maxim was helpful in setting down that basic truth. Having thought about the maxim, I realize that often people capture it by saying, "There's no accounting for taste," with a disapproving shake of the head, signalling that what the other party likes isn't worthy. I hope you didn't get that flavor from my use of it. I do think it's best usually to consider matters of taste to be indisputable. Of course, I could have, in that case, just said nothing, but I decided to give it a go knowing that I was speaking to a friendly and non-defensive person. Maybe some interesting discussion could ensue, although it wouldn't be much about taking apart the story to appreciate it.
Quote:
I believe it was you who once said you have clients (maybe singular) to whom you recommend church as a way to experience social support and interaction. You acknowledged that the social process was beneficial, but said you were not interested because you can't believe the language and stories (of the supernatural, I will interpret).

My hunch is that it's the social contact and the shared experience and ritual that most benefits people. These are I think the important comforts, more important than the reassurances that death isn't the disaster we fear it to be, or that by the death of a man we are saved. But I can't prove that, of course. I know that in my case I wasn't able to continue to get the social benefits because of the credal stuff being in the way. I can't do what you and Robert can: translate the literal beliefs into ones more metaphorical. I didn't want to be a scoffer or to hold myself out as having a different take, so I thought it best to leave.
Quote:
So the common factor with the reaction to this kind of story seems to be finding certain kinds of unreality to be unpalatable. Whereas I tend to find them intriguing . . . "what would that be like?" and later, "why would someone think to tell a story like that?"

"Certain kinds of unreality" is a criterion that I'd apply to this story. I seem to be a minority, because all the reactions to it that I looked up were positive. People love this story. I can only say that for me it doesn't work as a meditation on our mortality or as a love story. Even though it's true that I'm going to be a hard sell when it comes to magical realism, I don't think I'd automatically abandon when I came to some of it. But this particular stab at magical realism just doesn't make it for me. The execution is fatally flawed in my view. Not only does the premise seem preposterous, but the writer gets the "realism" wrong, too. That starts when he tells us that it didn't get above 15 below in Idaho one December. Several other instances of fablism follow in the supposedly naturalistic details. Other complaints: the hunter stalks his 15-year-old for three years before whisking her off to his cabin, she having reached the age of consent (mildly unsettling). Conveniently, she is an orphan, so the writer doesn't feel he needs to explain why she goes off with the hunter, having no life or relationships of her own. The wife develops a thing for hocus-pocus magic, reading dozens of ancient books on Medieval necromancy or whatever. Why? She already has her powers. Are the books going to teach her something more about her craft?

I realize I shouldn't expect merely good writers to be up to Joyce, Faulkner, or Virginia Woolf when it comes to the topic that so grabs our attention: death. So maybe I should lighten up about it a little bit. But I find the climax of the story to be disappointing, consisting of pseudo-profundities. And I never feel the other thing that Doer intends us feel by the end, the holiness of the bond between the hunter and his wife. Where does love truly figure in this story?

Sorry to not respond to the rest of your comments. I would be glad to get into some of that later on.

Author:  Litwitlou [ Wed Mar 07, 2018 6:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

DWill wrote:
Even though it's true that I'm going to be a hard sell when it comes to magical realism, I don't think I'd automatically abandon when I came to some of it. But this particular stab at magical realism just doesn't make it for me. The execution is fatally flawed in my view. Not only does the premise seem preposterous, but the writer gets the "realism" wrong, too. That starts when he tells us that it didn't get above 15 below in Idaho one December. Several other instances of fablism follow in the supposedly naturalistic details. Other complaints: the hunter stalks his 15-year-old for three years before whisking her off to his cabin, she having reached the age of consent (mildly unsettling). Conveniently, she is an orphan, so the writer doesn't feel he needs to explain why she goes off with the hunter, having no life or relationships of her own. The wife develops a thing for hocus-pocus magic, reading dozens of ancient books on Medieval necromancy or whatever. Why? She already has her powers. Are the books going to teach her something more about her craft?


While I can't believe that tales told of Robin Hood or King Arthur and the Holy Grail, are true, I still find it possible to enjoy them because they're wonderful stories that appeal to what I might term "the romantic" in me. This is the way I see "The Hunter's Wife." While in a literal sense the faults you find in the story are there, I believe they may be expected in certain types of fiction and viewed as devices used to set mood and theme. For example, when Doerr writes about the weather in Idaho, I don't worry about it being factually true, or even plausibly true. I roll with it and try to feel the cold in the way Doerr is trying to have me feel it. As to the hunter's wife's reading obsession, I see it as a part of her vision quest. She does not necessarily believe everything she reads. It's more the author communicating the urgency and depth of her need to understand her connection to the supernatural.

Please do not take this to mean I reject your view of the story. I'm just trying to explain why I enjoyed it.

I hope it wasn't wrong of me to jump into your conversation with Mr. Marks.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Wed Mar 07, 2018 2:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

DWill wrote:
Right, my reaction, too, is pretty much the shrug, because people do have different things they like. That's why I thought the Roman maxim was helpful in setting down that basic truth.
Well, you know what they say about great minds.

DWill wrote:
Having thought about the maxim, I realize that often people capture it by saying, "There's no accounting for taste," with a disapproving shake of the head, signalling that what the other party likes isn't worthy. I hope you didn't get that flavor from my use of it.
No, no, you were clear and the context, as you suggest, is primed for people to express themselves honestly without fear of someone reading malevolence into it.

DWill wrote:
My hunch is that it's the social contact and the shared experience and ritual that most benefits people. These are I think the important comforts, more important than the reassurances that death isn't the disaster we fear it to be, or that by the death of a man we are saved.
I definitely agree. Unfortunately a lot of churches are still about impressing other people, and that can be a toxic experience, especially for those with some fragility already. But with a little screening, the human warmth should be very helpful. And in my experience, the doctrine is no more important to the average Christian than who wins the Super Bowl.
DWill wrote:
I can't do what you and Robert can: translate the literal beliefs into ones more metaphorical. I didn't want to be a scoffer or to hold myself out as having a different take, so I thought it best to leave.
That's kind of what I wanted to think about. First off, I consider it normal. Humans come in many flavors, and "pragmatic" or "feet on the ground" (or whatever you choose to call it) is likely to be an important flavor. Among the people I hang around with, most of whom have at least an undergraduate college degree, I would say your outlook is more common by far than any interest in finding meaning in the metaphorical.

Second, in the literary example I have a sort of useful analogy for how that outlook works, without all the baggage of politics, self-righteousness, judgmentalism and the rest that religion often wears like garlic to keep the undead away.

Quote:
So the common factor with the reaction to this kind of story seems to be finding certain kinds of unreality to be unpalatable. Whereas I tend to find them intriguing . . . "what would that be like?" and later, "why would someone think to tell a story like that?"

DWill wrote:
"Certain kinds of unreality" is a criterion that I'd apply to this story. I seem to be a minority, because all the reactions to it that I looked up were positive.
I think there is a continuum for people's reactions to "signs of unrealism". I am actually fairly easily triggered by, for example, movie science fiction that gets the science all wrong. What was that silly movie about falling through a black hole and, intact on the other side, being able to communicate with the past? Unh-unh. Not buying it. Well, I was kind of intrigued by the cute little tie-backs to the stuff from earlier in the movie. A variation on what makes "The Sting" such a fun movie. But the conceit in Doerr's story didn't set off those buzzers for me. More of that in a minute.

DWill wrote:
But this particular stab at magical realism just doesn't make it for me. The execution is fatally flawed in my view. Not only does the premise seem preposterous, but the writer gets the "realism" wrong, too. That starts when he tells us that it didn't get above 15 below in Idaho one December. Several other instances of fablism follow in the supposedly naturalistic details.
That strikes me as a realistic reaction, but honestly I didn't pick up on the unrealistic extremes. I mean, okay, some stuff (like the starvation in the extreme winter) was piled on pretty heavily, and he never quite said why the meat was sitting out where the coyotes could get it once they got into the basement, but something else was going on for me. Doerr was being coy about whether her visions were really at all supernatural, up until the guy went off the bridge. And by that time I was already hooked by the relationship to the writer's craft, so I had stopped really caring if the visions were mystically valid or just imagination.

DWill wrote:
Other complaints: the hunter stalks his 15-year-old for three years before whisking her off to his cabin, she having reached the age of consent (mildly unsettling).
Yeah, I found her age unnecessarily twisted and still can't understand what role it played, unless it was to give an excuse for him to be so patient and persistent without them actually getting hitched.
DWill wrote:
The wife develops a thing for hocus-pocus magic, reading dozens of ancient books on Medieval necromancy or whatever. Why? She already has her powers. Are the books going to teach her something more about her craft?
Since I was reading it as a representation of the writer's craft, it seemed very natural that she would explore mystical stuff. I mean, "Writing Down the Bones" is probably the most recommended book on how to be a writer, and it is mostly about depth psychology and how to let go of inhibitions and let creativity flow. Some parts are deliberately illogical, though none of it dabbles in the supernatural.

DWill wrote:
I realize I shouldn't expect merely good writers to be up to Joyce, Faulkner, or Virginia Woolf when it comes to the topic that so grabs our attention: death. So maybe I should lighten up about it a little bit. But I find the climax of the story to be disappointing, consisting of pseudo-profundities.
I did not get the feeling that Doerr was trying to get across any particular profundity about people's desire to connect with dead loved ones, except maybe that even the most educated feel it. Rather I sensed a kind of strange comparison going on, suggesting that the writer's connection to people's dreams would reach even beyond death. Since I think something like that is going on with Jesus, where people imagine what Jesus would be like and a bond is formed from that, I took it pretty seriously as an exploration about what makes the act of writing really matter. I don't know if you saw Disney's "Coco" but it plays with the same material: the memory of the dead within the lives of the living "keeps the dead one alive" so to speak.

DWill wrote:
And I never feel the other thing that Doer intends us feel by the end, the holiness of the bond between the hunter and his wife. Where does love truly figure in this story?
It is very common for a married couple to go on for decades with a kind of unspoken agreement not to mention elephants in the room. The thing is, if they are not totally bound in fear, they still work on the stuff internally. They turn it over in their minds, and let it go on being unspoken since they can't see a way to get over the barrier. There is a kind of genuine, if not very romantic, love in that endurance.

As I have been thinking about the husband's decision to at last accept the invitation and go see what she is doing, it felt to me like he had made a kind of breakthrough, that he was going to at least give it a fair chance to be something real. Remembering that I was reading it as the exercise of imagination by a creative person, by that point, as a sort of Jungian encounter with the collective unconscious, I found that to be a really courageous step on the husband's part. (Whether it was motivated by love I am not sure, but he clearly still cared about her.)

Imagine your favorite auto mechanic, pragmatic to the bone and having lots of good jokes to tell, but never giving a fig for music, and his wife the cellist whom he has been unable to make sense of for decades invites him to see her in a concert. And then he gets it: he still doesn't know a thing about counterpoint or chord changes, but he hears her passion, and sees her connection with the audience, and suddenly it isn't just a performance but an engagement with what life is about. Before that, he didn't really have any concept that life might be "about" anything, but his wife did, and he wanted to give it a chance.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

Litwitlou wrote:
While I can't believe that tales told of Robin Hood or King Arthur and the Holy Grail, are true, I still find it possible to enjoy them because they're wonderful stories that appeal to what I might term "the romantic" in me. This is the way I see "The Hunter's Wife."

Yes, wonderful stories: stories that awaken wonder. Of course, the last time I dipped into King Arthur, so much of it was about hewing and striking a mighty blow that I might have been reading Bronze Age stuff. But it has the payoff bits, and modern writers like T.H. White, whose work inspired "Camelot", have appropriated it and made it meaningful all over again. (In fact I have a private theory that "The Once and Future King" belongs in the genre of literature that reacts against World War I, like "All Quiet on the Western Front," "Lady Chatterly's Lover" and the poetry of Wilfred Owen and e. e. cummings.)

Litwitlou wrote:
While in a literal sense the faults you find in the story are there, I believe they may be expected in certain types of fiction and viewed as devices used to set mood and theme. For example, when Doerr writes about the weather in Idaho, I don't worry about it being factually true, or even plausibly true. I roll with it and try to feel the cold in the way Doerr is trying to have me feel it.
I like the way you put that: set mood and theme. Both worked for me in that winter: her near-catatonic inwardness was a reaction partly to the winter but the winter was partly a symbol of her bleak inner wilderness, where she did not know what to make of her strange encounters. And the hunter's dogged determination felt positively mythical (Sisyphus, for my money) in its inability to engage with what was going on for her.

Litwitlou wrote:
I hope it wasn't wrong of me to jump into your conversation with Mr. Marks.

Mr. Marks is quite happy to have people jump in and offer some alternate perspectives. People are wonderful, if you ask me. And I doubt seriously if DWill minds either.

Author:  DWill [ Thu Mar 08, 2018 10:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

Quote:
I think there is a continuum for people's reactions to "signs of unrealism". I am actually fairly easily triggered by, for example, movie science fiction that gets the science all wrong. What was that silly movie about falling through a black hole and, intact on the other side, being able to communicate with the past? Unh-unh. Not buying it. Well, I was kind of intrigued by the cute little tie-backs to the stuff from earlier in the movie. A variation on what makes "The Sting" such a fun movie. But the conceit in Doerr's story didn't set off those buzzers for me. More of that in a minute.

Both you and Litwitlou showed a certain flexibility in appreciating the story, making allowances for its stretches because you found other aspects compensating--or maybe the stretches were actually part of the story's effectiveness, I don't know. I didn't show this flexibility, and your mention of triggering tells me why. When I encountered the "tall tale" elements, as well as the central conceit of the story, I shut down. It's sort of similar to my not going to any superhero movies. I can't get past the lack of real suspense conferred by superpowers, and then I get totally bored with the action parts. (I think I did appreciate the original "Superman," though, so campy and kind of charming with the more primitive special effects.) My older daughter is way smarter than I but loves most of these superhero movies. I remain adamant against them. A part of that animus is simply feeling the need to have some restrictions--makes life simpler. It's also why I don't want to become knowledgeable about something like wine or expand into some new hobby. I feel too spread out as it is and don't need to be even more of a dilettante.

But back to this story, I'm thinking of what a more critical reading would have been on my part. By 'critical' I of course mean a balanced view showing openness to whatever it might contain. I'm wondering whether the the lack of verisimilitude could itself have led me to consider other possibilities, such as that Doerr didn't intend for us to accept the events at face value. Take the completely bizarre final scene where we realize the college president has assembled people for a formal dinner and has brought the coffins of his wife and children so that the unnamed wife can work her healing magic. Doerr must be intentionally pushing the bounds of realism, for what purpose I don't have a good idea, but he had to have known that the reader would find this assembly very strange and spookifying. It's a horror story in reverse.

Some people are more la-di-da than I am in being able to appreciate something about nearly everything they read. I suppose I'm more irritable when the writer isn't hitting my sweet spot (or it might be wanting to avoid work!). Although I can report that aging has delivered the benefit at least of opening me to more kinds of writing, especially the "slow" stuff by certain masters that I used to lack the patience for. I'm not sure how far I'll get in this catholicity movement.
Quote:
Imagine your favorite auto mechanic, pragmatic to the bone and having lots of good jokes to tell, but never giving a fig for music, and his wife the cellist whom he has been unable to make sense of for decades invites him to see her in a concert. And then he gets it: he still doesn't know a thing about counterpoint or chord changes, but he hears her passion, and sees her connection with the audience, and suddenly it isn't just a performance but an engagement with what life is about. Before that, he didn't really have any concept that life might be "about" anything, but his wife did, and he wanted to give it a chance.

Nice. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this story. I recall seeing an interview with the late poet James
Dickey, who in some of his later work had gone down some fantastic avenues. His reaction to critics who said, "Oh, come off it!" was, "No, I want to GO WITH it!"

Author:  froglipz [ Thu May 03, 2018 12:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

Quote:


DWill wrote:
Other complaints: the hunter stalks his 15-year-old for three years before whisking her off to his cabin, she having reached the age of consent (mildly unsettling).


Yeah, I found her age unnecessarily twisted and still can't understand what role it played, unless it was to give an excuse for him to be so patient and persistent without them actually getting hitched.


I think the age is the mechanism for showing the depth of his love(?) for her. He was willing to wait the three years necessary to legally be with her. Otherwise why would he have just waited for her to come back every hear if she was 25 or 30, and why would she still have been available? Of course, he was a single guy almost 40, so he was either pretty comfortable being single, or he was not living in a place with an abundance of girlfriend material, or...

DWill, I looked up Alice Munro and read a couple of her stories, which are very good. I read "Amundson" and "The View From Castle Rock" by her. There is a link to several of her stories here:
nothingintherulebook.com/2016/12/08/16- ... right-now/

What are some of your favorites by her? I am excited to find a whole new treasure trove of short stories!

Author:  Harry Marks [ Fri Jun 08, 2018 3:36 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Hunter's Wife - by Anthony Doerr - a short story discussion

DWill wrote:
It's sort of similar to my not going to any superhero movies. I can't get past the lack of real suspense conferred by superpowers, and then I get totally bored with the action parts.

I am returning to this because it touches on some of the material in "Job" that I am working on. I actually agree with you 100 percent here. I was never very interested in working out what the "superpowers" made possible or not. I was a comic fan, but I strongly preferred Batman to Superman, and Spiderman or Daredevil to Thor or Hulk. And I think that kind of preference has something to do with literature and how it works. (Sorry for the effrontery of comparing Spiderman to literature - I do know better.)

Long ago in a high school Literary Humanities we were meant to write about the Homeric Hero, and I was intrigued to find a source arguing that such a hero must be Noble, Exemplary and Flawed. (I think this comes from Aristotle, but have always been too lazy to look it up). Exemplary and Flawed makes a great contrast. Nice tension. The invulnerability of, say, Superman is completely boring - that's why they invented kryptonite. But what is Noble doing in there?

It's a problem I chewed on for decades. The answer I sort of settled on (the most common one, I believe) is that the Noble families are unconstrained. They are in the best position to make actual decisions, which are the most meaningful parts of literature. One can dispute the idea that Oedipus, for example, is about choices in the sense that the noble leaders made them, but the choice to investigate his own past is arguably crucial.

This is an extension of the argument sometimes made that, before the industrial revolution one had to rule over others in order to be actually free from the compulsions of using time for material needs.

It's difficult to sell that kind of requirement these days. Most people make many genuine choices. We are all Noble now. But a person with "special powers" gives an unusual take on how choices are made. The Hunter's Wife has a certain compulsion to know what is going on with her visions, and then (shades of Joseph Campbell) a certain compulsion to use it for other people's release from the misery of loss. (And does the compulsion mirror the Hunter's pursuit of her and his "forced moves" to confront nature? I rather think so.)

But for these special situations to resonate for us, of course, we have to be able to find the choices meaningful. So my linkage to the writer's craft (and I am pretty sure, after reading "All the Light We Cannot See," that it was intentional) gave me a way to reflect on it, query it, and see what I thought about the result.

I'm afraid "Who would win, Superman or Thor?" has no such suspense, and no way to connect with and identify with their exalted natures.

DWill wrote:
Take the completely bizarre final scene where we realize the college president has assembled people for a formal dinner and has brought the coffins of his wife and children so that the unnamed wife can work her healing magic. Doerr must be intentionally pushing the bounds of realism, for what purpose I don't have a good idea, but he had to have known that the reader would find this assembly very strange and spookifying. It's a horror story in reverse.


I pulled this out as well because I thought it was a good observation about Doerr's atmospherics. He pushes right up to the limits of willingness to suspend disbelief, which is maybe a reflection of the requirements of writing in a less conflictive mode.

I suspect Doerr had a particularly poignant point to illustrate in using a college president (a "Noble" in today's world). He has ascended to the heights of his culture's respect (unless his college has a competitive football team, but we won't go into that) and is ready to throw them aside for his intimate relationships. The atmospherics emphasize, I think, that his position with its robes and ceremonies can as easily hearken to the shamanic otherworldliness of a Wise Man as to the representations of splendor by which the old potentates held the peasants in awe. It raises questions about what impresses us, and whether we should be looking behind the curtain.

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