“An Ounce of Cure” by Alice Munro (Canada)

“Why is it a temptation to refer to this sort of thing lightly, with irony, with amazement…?  That is what we are apt to do, speaking love; with adolescent
love, of course, it’s practically obligatory…”

Two voices seem to be speaking in the above passage:  there is the narrator of “An Ounce of Cure,” who asks her readers why we all tend to trivialize our memories of unrequited adolescent love.  And then there is the author, who asks the question apparently to herself; not to draw her readers into a shared experience, but rather to muse on the question of why she, and other writers, tend to speak of teenaged passions in such jocular tones.  Munro realizes, as few writers do, that one has to set bounds not just to sympathy (that, apparently, is easy enough to do) but also to humour.

But Munro’s accomplishment lies not only in establishing the right tone, nor even finding the right blend of adolescent and adult voices, but also in so framing and editing the story of a former “catastrophe” as to show both the cause as perceived by the adolescent (“my own incommodious nature”) and the cause as perceived by the adult.  From the adult narrator’s perspective, the adolescent needs only to get beyond her sense of helplessness (“dominated my mind,” “against my will,” “gave up my soul for dead”); needs only to be cured, as the title suggests, not so much in the sense of overcoming a disease as in the sense of ripening or maturing.  Munro’s narrator is eventually able to respond in her own terms to a gentleman’s “reminiscent smile.”  If she gives the adult Martin Collingwood “a gentle, uncomprehending look,” it is a decidedly gentle but fully comprehending look that she gives her teenaged self.

Did you ever “put your foot in it?”  Looking back on something foolish or wrong that you did five or six years ago is an embarrassing or at least disquieting experience; the question “How could I have been so—awkward/stupid/dumb/unfeeling?” invariably comes to mind.

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