“Passion,” by Alice Munro
Appeared in the New Yorker, March 22nd, 2004 (online here); collected in Runaway (McClelland and Stewart, 2004), which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize (2004), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in Caribbean and Canada (2005), and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (2004); anthologized in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006
I had to think a bit about the title. It’s Grace’s passion, isn’t it, that drives the story? She’s young and badly in need of stimulation—you can see that in her studies and her reading and her feeling for Mrs. Travers. The stimulation she gets from Neil is along the same lines but more intense than what she’s gotten elsewhere. She learns to drive, and she has an erotic experience, and she has an intense laconic conversation, and she encounters despair—a despair she must have gotten only a dim inkling of, if she got any intimation of it at all, from the end of Anna Karenina. (I wonder which character she identified with. I read it at about age eighteen and don’t recall having a particular affinity for any of them. Maybe for Levin.)
(At my age, I should be feeling how very young twenty is, but I associate Grace’s receptive quality, her passion, with an even earlier age. Maybe I’m not so old, or maybe I was already old—albeit not wise—at twenty.)
What are we to make of Grace’s return more than forty years later? The place means a great deal to her, but why now? We learn only a little about her—that she is an excellent conversationalist, evidently after the example of the Travers family, and sometimes gets sick of hearing herself talk. Is she trying to rediscover the passion she’s lost? Has her passion gotten tucked away behind the laundry basin?