THE BEGGAR MAID
Stories Of Flo & Rose
In these ten interlinked, chronological stories about Ontario girl Rose, Munro--like Joyce Carol Oates in her early novels--penetrates, with bowsprit knowledge and (unlike Oates) irrepressible tenderness, the iced-in continent of the working-class poor and the erratic course of those who get away. "We sweat for our pretensions," muses Rose, whose 1930s aspirations--toward high school, university--are mocked by stepmother Flo, who pegs out the safety of home, scornful of anyone trying to be other than she was intended to be. But Rose persists, and, after the curiously passive acceptance of her bitterly withdrawn father's approaching death, she seems posessed of a lust, later edged but still imperative, to simply "see what will happen." Anchorless, but learning new roles in an alien culture, she impulsively accepts the marriage proposal of grad-student Patrick, who--in his own minor rebellion against his wealthy family--is infatuated with his image of Rose as the poor, submissive "beggar maid." They will divorce (Rose will later be startled by his hatred), and Rose, now a jill-of-all-trades in radio, will play at domesticity for the brief time her young daughter lives with her. And subsequent loves collapse through missed connections or a too-honest word or two. So Rose is now "adept at disguises." In the last stories Rose returns to her childhood home, to a rapidly deteriorating, savage Flo--and, in a reunion with an old classmate (who's also "resigned to living in bafflement"), she finds understanding. . . and forgiveness. A bountifully compassionate and moving book, some portions of which have appeared in The New Yorker.