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The Bear that came over the mountain

            The Bear Came Over the Mountain," thrilling to the young Fiona's suggestion that they marry, observing that "She had the spark of life," and two lines later Fiona is seventy years old and losing her mind, five decades of their marriage now backstory to Grant's witnessing of her decline.
             In "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," the tables are turned on a compulsive philanderer when his institutionalized wife, suffering from Alzheimer's, takes up with a fellow patient. This grotesque parody of his own unfaithfulness, if not romance in general, signals a crucial shift in priorities. As they hit middle age, Munro's characters have little time for love: they're too busy trying to stay alive. The stories' settings are hospitals, rest homes, mental institutions, mortuaries. Nurses and doctors, rather than lovers, increasingly play the supporting roles. In one scene a dying professor discusses Turgenev from his bed in a cancer ward. In another story, a wife returns home from tennis to find her terminally ill husband has taken his life "she is unable to locate "undertakers" in the yellow pages and must look under "funeral directors." In each case, there's the mild shock that such tragedies are even possible. After her husband is diagnosed with ALS, a wife wonders, "And now that one unlikely thing had happened, couldn't others?" .
             inexorable loss and suffering, and the power of memory and the imagination, somehow work to balance each other out. .
             The Bear Came Over The Mountain, whose threatening title says it all: nemesis has slipped his leash and is heading for the town where Grant and his eccentric, adorable wife Fiona have lived for decades. Grant's lifelong infidelity does not diminish his love for Fiona, but he's glad he stopped his affairs before Fiona learned anything and he risked losing her.
             Yet now, at 70, Fiona is being lost in quite another way. Suffering rapid mental decline and put into a home, she transforms from wife to stranger, seeming not to recognise her husband, who does not know if she truly no longer knows him, or if she's simply teasing.

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