Away from Her

I have always been a fan of the Rizal Library. As a student I had a habit of hoarding books, only to re-borrow them two weeks later, without having read a single page. Now, as a part-time teacher, I am allowed to check out several books for a whole month’s period—a limited opportunity I intend to make full use of.

If you research Away from Her, you will find that it is not a book, but a movie. This is because Sarah Polley based her film on Alice Munro’s “The Bear Came over the Mountain,” and after it came out they published the story as a separate book, titled anew. Away from Her covers a difficult period in an elderly couple’s life. As his wife Fiona succumbs to Alzheimer’s, Grant must unravel the long history of intimacies and betrayals that make up their marriage and make a decision that could redirect both their futures.

The story combines the couple’s present predicament with Grant’s perspective on the past. He recounts a quietly shocking litany of affairs without the slightest hint of regret, only bitterness. But after everything, somehow he is still able to say that he loves Fiona. And despite obvious logic, I cannot seem to deny him that. Even at the end, Grant again betrays Fiona, but this time it is an act that, for complicated reasons, he chooses only for her happiness. I cannot say whether what Grant did was right or wrong, whether it was selfish or selfless. I refuse to pass judgment, just as this story does. Instead I think about “how mysterious the bonds of love really are”; how love changes through the years, in form and depth, until it is almost unrecognizable from the undying devotion we dreamt about during adolescence.

The narrative seems deceptively simple, but contains so much within it. “In Munro’s hands, a short story is more than big enough to hold the world,” declares a Chicago Tribune review. And it’s true, at one point I was jolted into the realization that I was just reading a short story; it had felt like a novel. Away from Her is all the more heartbreaking because it hardly gives you any sympathetic moments, only objective observations. It is a torturous distance. Upon closing, it leaves a silence that stuns you for a long moment, until you realize it wasn’t that distant after all.

Because if she let go of her grief even for a minute it would only hit her harder when she bumped into it again.

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