What women think about men

D.A.N. Jones

  • The Progress of Love by Alice Munro
    Chatto, 309 pp, £9.95, January 1987, ISBN 0 7011 3161 6
  • Ruth by Jeremy Cooper
    Hutchinson, 187 pp, £9.95, November 1986, ISBN 0 09 167110 8

Let us be sexist. The Progress of Love is a woman’s book, particularly interesting to men who want to know what women think of them and know about them. Alice Munro is a 56-year-old Canadian who has been married twice: she is particularly concerned with the knowingness derived from broken relationships. One of the 11 skilful stories in this book (her sixth collection) is called ‘Lichen’ – a fungoid growth or eruption used as an image for the progress of love. A civil servant called David, his grey hair dyed, has come to visit his ex-wife, Stella: he brings with him his new partner, Catherine, but he is already sick of her and obsessed with a third woman, the pleasingly trollopy Dina. David accompanies Stella on a visit to her aged father in the Balm of Gilead home. As they leave, he thinks that this troll-like woman, to whom he was married for 21 years, knows him too well: ‘He could never feel any lightness, any secret and victorious expansion with a woman who knew so much. She was bloated with all she knew.’ Nevertheless, he embraces Stella in the hospital corridor – and, just then, a pretty nurse passes, pushing a trolley and calling: ‘Juice time. Orange. Grape.’ David feels a very slight discomfort at being seen by such a young and pretty girl in the embrace of Stella. It is not an important feeling – ‘It simply brushed him and passed’ – but Stella knows about it. She says:

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