This song plays around with the Destroyer original a little bit more than some of the other covers have. Lavender Diamond’s lead vocalist is a woman, Becky Stark, so her voice is different from Dan Bejar’s. Of course, Bejar’s voice is kind of high-pitched so it’s not that different. The original also has a female backing vocal on all of the Lie-Dee-Dies, which Lavender Diamond supplies by herself.
The Destroyer version is softer, a bit more delicate (especially the ending section which is washes of strings and gentle keyboards). Lavender Diamond’s version is primarily piano, and that starkness somehow makes the song more intense. So yes, I find myself enjoying the Lavender Diamond version a wee bit more. I hadn’t heard much by Lavender Diamond before (I knew that Becky Stark was on the Decemeberists’ Hazards of Love album). But I think it’s time to investigate her stuff a little bit more.
[READ: April 5, 2012] “Train”
I had put off reading this story for a little while because it was pretty long (12 pages in Harper’s which is quite long for a Harper’s story). Not only was it justifiably long, it was thoroughly enjoyable.
The story was set up in an unexpected way (especially for Munro whose stories tend to be pretty straightforward). It opens with a man jumping off a train (I also tend to think of Munro as writing about women, so a male protagonist is also something of a surprise).
So Jackson hops off of a train. It was going slow, but it hurt more than he expected. After he gets his bearings, he realizes that he is closer to civilization than he realized–indeed, there’s a woman out milking a cow. The woman turns out to be Belle (the cow is Margaret Rose).
After years of reading different kinds of stories, there were so many different ways this meeting could have gone (most of them badly). But Munro tends to not write about physical violence, so this meeting goes pretty well–it’s not even all that awkward because Belle is a sweet, almost naive, woman.
Belle lives by herself, although that is a recently development. Her mother passed away a few months ago after decades of needing a lot of physical help. Her father has been dead for many years–he was hit by a train. He used to take care of Belle’s mother, but once he died, the responsibility was all hers.
She was also more or less supported by the Mennonites who live up the road. The introduction of them is wonderful, as it is how Jackson sees them: “Over the hill came a box on wheels, being pulled by two quiet small horses…. And in the box sat half a dozen or so little men. All dressed in black with proper black hats on their heads.”
Of course, these little men are the Mennonite children who look after her. Jackson pities Belle, although she neither seeks it nor really deserves it. She seems quite content with her situation. He decides to stick around and fix up her house for her (which is in bad need of repair). He imagines that he can work for her for a few months and then maybe help the Mennonites a bit and then continue on his way.
After (what I believe is) several years, Jackson and Belle have settled down like brother and sister–a purely Platonic relationship. Interestingly enough, we don’t really learn all that much about either of them. Although we certainly learn more about her as she is the chattier of the two, but there is virtually no explanation of Jackson’s past.
Then, Belle finds a lump. He convinces her to have the cancer taken out. And they drive together to Toronto (she is freaked out by the highway and all of the city changes–she used to live there–and even he is surprised by how much has changed since he was there last) Someone tells him they ought to see Chinatown! Belle is nervous about the operation, but he sits with her and tries to take her mind off of things. Which works for a while.
But when she wakes up after the surgery, she seems different. No doubt it is from the medication, but she is a little less proper, her reserve is down somewhat. And she tells him what she believes is the real reason for her father’s death.
This moment of bareness freaks Jackson out. And the rest of the story–and there’s quite a lot left–shows just how much of a coward Jackson really is. The jump to the next section is practically unfathomable as Jackson begins to make a new life in the city. True–Jackson and Belle never had any kind of formal agreement…and he always planned to leave, but it shocking that he considers it.
About 2/3 of the way into the story a new character is introduced. And it almost feels like a new story. Until, that is, Munro links this new story with the main story and it fleshes out Jackson’s past and gives the whole story an amazing amount of depth.
The story is really wonderfully told. I said that Munro doesn’t do physical violence, but man, is she good at the emotional kind. It’s a really strong short story. And the title, which seems a little generic, really play a large role in the story overall.