These vandals definitely have ~’Open Secrets.
~’ In this story, you’ll find out what those secrets are as we summarize the Munro short story, ~’Vandals,~’ and find out what causes two adults to act in such a shocking way.
To put the story in this lesson, titled ”Vandals” in Alice Munro’s book, Open Secrets, I would say, is highly accurate. Though you don’t learn it until fairly far into the story, the main characters, Bea and Ladner, as well as Liza, are all keeping secrets in the open – and reacting to them accordingly. Read on to see what I mean.
When the story opens, Bea Doud is writing a letter to a young woman named Liza who used to live near her.
She intends to thanks Liza and Liza’s husband, Warren, for visiting and checking on her house while she was away with her husband, Ladner, who dies quite unexpectedly during a routine heart bypass procedure. The winter had been cold and Ladner expressed concern over simple things, like whether he had turned off the water: ”He was obsessed more and more by that sort of detail. The one way his age showed.
”Bea continues her letter by telling Liza about a dream she’d had where she was collecting human bones. She thought them to be Ladner’s, but then it occurred to her they may have belonged to Liza’s brother, Kenny, who died when he was just a teenager.Yet, the letter was never actually sent. It was found in Bea’s house in Carstairs, a way from the country home where she and Ladner had lived.
Bea and Ladner
We get a bit of the backstory about how Bea and Ladner met. Bea had been seeing Peter Parr. She is pretty disparaging about Peter, saying that he was ”compulsively sociable,” which was not at all appealing to her: ”She didn’t want any more of his geniality, his good intentions, his puzzling and striving. All the things that had appealed to her and comforted her about him were now more or less dust and ashes.
”It was with Peter that she had met Ladner, a man whom Peter was already acquainted with. Ladner was a war veteran who had sustained burns to his face, and chose to live his life in solitude in the country. He was a taxidermist and had built something of a nature preserve on his property that he would let people visit.Except Peter. When Peter arrived with Bea, Ladner told them no in a rather unpleasant manner.
Like a lot of women, it seems Bea almost immediately fell out of love with the kind and pleasant Peter and decided she wanted the mean and grumpy Ladner: ”She would hate to think so, because wasn’t that the way in all the dreary romances–some brute gets the woman tingling and then it’s goodbye to Mr. Fine-and-Decent?”A few days later, Bea returned to Ladner’s home on her one, under the guise of viewing the nature preserve. They walked around the property together and enjoyed tea in the house. The relationship then took an interesting turn: ”She asked him if he couldn’t say he wanted to live with her, and he said yes, he could say that.
He could say it, but he didn’t.” Bea was making her move.Not too much later, Bea and Ladner begin living together.
Liza and Warren
The story jumps forward to the present again, when Liza tells her husband, Warren, about Bea phoning and asking them to check on her abandoned house. Liza says she will, and knows where the key is to let herself in.
Liza at Ladner’s
After all, Liza had been a child living across the road from the couple in her youth. In fact, she and her brother had spent considerable time at the couple’s home, learning about nature and swimming in the pond.
Bea had helped finance Liza’s college education.
Going to the House
Liza and Warren set out on a snowmobile for Bea and Ladner’s home to check on its care and safety. Liza finds the key and lets them into the house, to Warren’s dismay. He asks, ”We aren’t going to hang around here, are we?”Although ”hanging around,” isn’t exactly what Liza has in mind. She immediately begins rifling through drawers, dumping out their contents; smashing windows; and breaking things in the kitchen.
Warren is taken aback and asks her what she’s doing. She replies, cheerfully, ”Nothing that is remotely any of your business ..
. Why don’t you relax and watch TV or something?”Liza continues carrying on, tearing up things in the house. She eventually convinces the straight-laced Warren to join in the ”fun.
”After they’ve worn themselves out vandalizing the house, Liza calls Bea and tells her that someone has made a terrible mess of their home. Liza and Warren loosely close up the house, leaving their mess, and head for home.
Flashback to the Past
What we learn next from the story is that Ladner was a pretty rotten guy. He would openly make fun of Bea in front of Liza and her brother and pretended to ignore Liza nearly drowning in the pond. As Liza is returning to offer Bea a gift for the way she observed Ladner treating her, she offers this: ”..
. when you cross into Ladner’s territory, it’s like coming into a world of different and distinct countries.”It’s here that we find out Ladner had sexually abused Liza as a child: ”When Ladner grabbed Liza and squashed himself against her, she had a sense of danger deep inside him, a mechanical sputtering, as if he would exhaust himself in one jab of light, and nothing would be left of him but black smoke and burnt smells and frazzled wires.”It is clear from Liza’s vandalism of Ladner’s old house that she is still very much affected by the events of her childhood.
This is a tale of an adult Liza taking out her anger and frustration of the events of her childhood by vandalizing the former home of Bea and taxidermist Ladner. Liza has gone to check on the house, at Bea’s request, and being back there – across the street from where she grew up – brings up old feelings about the sexual abuse she endured at Ladner’s hands.