Runaway: stories

by Alice Munro

Paperback, 2005





New York, Vintage books, 2005


Stories are about women of all ages and circumstances.

Media reviews

Unfortunately, her latest collection of stories, ''Runaway,'' does not represent Ms. Munro's artistry at its height. Three overlapping stories (''Chance,'' ''Soon'' and ''Silence'') provide an affecting portrait of a woman named Juliet and the harrowing trajectory of her life, but most of the entries in this volume are more stilted affairs. Instead of assuming the organic, musical form of real life, they feel like self-conscious, overworked tales, relying on awkwardly withheld secrets and O'Henryesque twists to create narrative suspense.
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But suspense and purity, which are a gift to the reader, present problems for the reviewer. Basically, ''Runaway'' is so good that I don't want to talk about it here. Quotation can't do the book justice, and neither can synopsis. The way to do it justice is to read it.

User reviews

LibraryThing member suedonym
Absolutely lyrical, with poignantly drawn characters that engage, surprise and linger. Each story is a book condensed within the short story format. As a rule, I don't do five stars, which to me would be literary perfection, but I seriously thought about it with this one.
LibraryThing member rmckeown
Alice Munro won the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her fiction. I have occasionally come across one of her stories in an anthology or The New Yorker, but I have never actually read an entire volume of her work. I understand why she deserves this prize.

These stories have a smoothness to them: no rough edges, nothing unusual, simply people living ordinary lives. Of these eight stories, five stand alone, but the most absorbing and the most interesting are three involving a character named Juliet. This set lies so close to the border of a novel, I wish with all my heart it comes out finished and complete. The ends are tied up too quickly, because I did not want the series to end.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy all of them – I absolutely did! But I found myself deep into Juliet, because Munro’s prose is that clever, that clear and bright. Here is a passage from the first in the series, “Chance”

“Juliet cleaned up the stroller, and Penelope, and herself, and set off on a walk into town. She had the excuse that she needed a certain brand of mild disinfectant soap with which to wash the diapers—if she used ordinary soap the baby would get a rash. But she had other reasons, irresistible though embarrassing.
“This was the way she had walked to school for years of her life. Even when she was going to college, and came home on a visit, she was still the same—a girl going to school. Would she never be done going to school? Somebody asked Sam [her father] that at a time when she had just won the Intercollegiate Latin Translation Prize, and he had said, “’Fraid not.” (101).

Munro shows us the overarching theme of these stories in the title. Each story has a character trying to escape, but most often -- even when they do get away – ties that bind hold them to the past. As Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” And you can’t get away from home either. Five stars

-Jim, 7/5/09
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LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
I’ve been meaning to read Munro for years. Her getting the Nobel, and a timely father’s day present was the nudge I needed to finally get me going. It wasn’t quite what I expected. Still a good read, no doubt, but I guess I was imagining the ”master of the modern short story” to be crisper, clearer, more precise.

That is to say, on the large scale. I thought I was in for tight stories, perfect, sparse little arcs or snapshots of poignant moments. Instead, Munro’s stories are rather sprawling, spanning over generations, meandering, managing large casts, restless moving between places, memories and the present. The core of them isn’t always easy to spot. The exactness I was counting on is still there though, but on a smaller scale. Rather than the whole story being a polished gem, Munro’s stories are full of beautifully captured small instances, often feeling profound – while the story they are contained in seems much looser in structure.

As far as they ARE contained stories per se, these stories tend to deal with change that is bigger on the inside than the outside, it seems. Something happens, often dramatic but not necessarily huge – which sends the characters in new directions, changes how they see each other. But again, it sounds crisper than it is. My favorites in this anthology are probably among the newest ones: the one about the husband starting to suspect his wife and best friend are having an affair, and beginning to try and make it easy for them. And the one about the woman who finds her dead neighbors and isn’t making as big a deal of it as her little town would have wished.

As I said, it wasn’t quite what I expected. But I’ll happily read more Munro.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
I always say I'm not really a fan of short stories but in the hand of a master like Alice Munro I am transformed. I think you have to be a consummate writer to craft a short story that doesn't leave the reader wishing there was more. On the front of this book the New York Times Book Review is quoted "Alice Munro has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America." I may not have the breadth of experience that the reviewers of the New York Times have but I do think Munro is a fabulous writer.

All of these stories deal with people who have run away or been abandoned or sometimes run away and then been abandoned. I think it is interesting that these stories are not contemporary; they mostly are set between the two world wars or just after the Second World War. I think it was maybe easier then to run away and not be found. Today with the World Wide Web and instant methods of communicating and the need to document all your financial transactions it is much less likely that people could disappear.

My favourite story was the last one, Powers. Two couples are contrasted in this story. On the one hand there is Nancy and Wilf, the couple that stayed in their Ontario town for most of their life where Wilf had a successful doctor's practise. On the other hand are Tessa and Ollie. Ollie is Wilf's cousin who met Tessa when Ollie came to town after spending time in a sanatorium for TB. Tessa has the power to find lost objects as well as some other extrasensory powers. Nancy introduced Ollie and Tessa but was surprised when Tessa went away with Ollie. Years later Nancy is called to a mental institution where Tessa has been for years and Ollie is presumed dead. The institution is being shut down and the authorities are looking for people to take the cases that no longer need to be in an institution. Nancy can't do this because Wilf has dementia and it is all she can do to look after him. Some time later, after Wilf's death, Nancy encounters Ollie on a street in Vancouver. Ollie tells Nancy that Tessa died of leukemia. Nancy doesn't disclose to Ollie that she knows differently. I can't help but ask myself what I would do in the same situation. That's always the mark of a good story for me.
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LibraryThing member agnesmack
Runaway is a collection of short stories written by Alice Munroe. I first discovered her last year when I was actively working to read more women authors. I picked up Women & Fiction, a collection of short stories, one of which was written by Ms. Munroe. Despite not typically being interested in short stories, I was taken with her story and thus sought out this volume.

I couldn’t have been more impressed. I have a few issues with short stories, generally. First of all, it is very difficult to gain my attention in a span of 5-50 pages. I am much more impressed by and interested in character development than plot development. I’ve found that very few short story writers have the chops to interest me in their characters with so few pages.

Now, there are some exceptions and some short story writers who have impressed me. Still, I’ve always been left wishing they would have made a novel out of it. Short stories always feel unfinished to me and I always feel like I’m just getting a glimpse into the story, when I want the whole shebang.

With this collection, Munroe has proven to me that there is indeed at least one short story writer out there who can complete perfect stories in a such a short time frame. While I did love her characters and stories, I did not come to the end and wish they would continue. I came to the end of each of them and felt . . . satisfied.

I can’t recommend Ms. Munroe enough.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I know that I am part of a very small minority, but I am not an Alice Munro fan. Her stories aren't bad, but to me, they are just incredibly boring. I will give her credit for writing realistic contemporary dialogue, and I guess it's a talent to be able to write a long story about ordinary people in fairly ordinary situations. And there are brief moments of insight into human nature. But that's about all I have to say. I've now read several of her collections, and I've felt the same way about each. It's never a good sign when you are about halfway through a story and just want it to end . . . For the last 100 pages, I've been thinking about what I will read next. (Hint: It won't be by Alice Munro.)… (more)
LibraryThing member briandarvell
Alice Munro is a Canadian author who is widely considered one of the best living short story authors in North America. Her work has been published now for over 40 years and has also been dignified with many of the most prestigious awards in fiction.

Runaway was my first taste of Munro's work and it is also her most current publication since being released in 2004. The novel is comprised of 8 short stories spanning a total of 335 pages and I was very impressed with the collection on the whole.

It was very easy to initially grasp the premise of what Munro writes about - that of living and growing as a women in 20th century Canada. The stories all use this framework as a premise with which she further develops the story by explaining how individual spirit and soul is something to be cherished and accepted in people. Munro's work extensively uses human nature and its implied foibles to develop endearing stories of a personal nature.

The novel also uses a very deliberate setting of Canadian geography and style. Most of the stories do take place in a more rural setting and since I was raised among, and been aware of, the unique nature found in people in rural Canada, it was very easy for myself to identify and understand what Munro's characters believed in and thought. It is with these ideas where I think Munro's writing comes out strongest and which attribute to her quality of being known as a great Canadian writer.

If any criticisms can be made of her work, I found that some of the coincidences used to develop the story with sensation (randomly meeting a long lost friend on the streets of Vancouver, etc.) were used a bit too often as to be unbelievable. There is also the fact that Munro does tend towards a female reader a lot more than a male one. I could understand it if some men would find it harder to fully enjoy this novel as much as a woman would due to some of the themes present within the stories.
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
Breathtakingly concise slices of life, with so much emotion pared down into such beautiful prose. Wonderful!
I will be reading more.

There are connected stories about Juliet, stories connected over a lifetime, and I found the final story in the sequence (Silence) very moving. The individual stories are equally good, spare language but full of life.… (more)
LibraryThing member jlelliott
Alice Munroe is widely lauded as one of the most brilliant modern short story writers. As a lover of short stories, I was expecting to really enjoy this collection. Certainly the stories are well-written and enjoyable to read. They are peopled largely with women, many of whom seem to exhibit a host of stereotypical feminine flaws (far too subservient or braggingly independent, ready to throw their lives away for randomly met men, etc). It isn’t necessarily that the characters are not realistic; they seem real, but in such a way that I think I would despise or pity them if I met them out in the world. A few of the stories also employ thematic elements which struck a false note, at least with me (the main offenders - the mistaken identity of murdered adopted baby, a deaf-mute twin brother, sudden defection of a beloved child to a cult camp). That said, I did enjoy reading the stories, especially the title story (Runaway) and Passion. Worth reading, but I think I will reserve judgment concerning Monroe’s status at the pinnacle of the craft.… (more)
LibraryThing member netoll
Lovely set of short stories, easy to pick up and put down, quick read
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
The theme uniting all of these stories is running away. The characters are trying, or want to but can’t, or are successful in their attempts to break away from the life they are leading. For some, it means just ending their life.
This collection wasn’t so visceral for me and read more like fiction that I could distance myself from. It was excellent again, and written in the language that is just a sheer joy to savour. Some of the stories might be just be a little too “Roald Dahlesque” in their twists.… (more)
LibraryThing member carmarie
I'm usually not a fan of short stories, but Munro is a fabulous writer. She leaves you wanting more of each story. Luckily for me, there were 4 chapters of the same characters, and I was greatful! I can't wait to read the next book.
LibraryThing member piefuchs
The closer a book comes to perfection, the more difficult it is for me to comment on...

Alice Munro has perfected the short story and in this collection every story is outstanding. Munro writes in a way that perfectly reminds you of the monotony of everyday life. A truly wonderous read.
LibraryThing member brendaough
Every story in this collection is a treasure....and the author is a national one.
LibraryThing member downstreamer
Haunting, simple stories that stay with you. One of the great short story writers of our age.
LibraryThing member cinesnail88
Munro delivers another incredible collection of short stories. Particularly interesting were the connected stories - those that share characters in some way or another. The title story was also intriguing. As always, Munro knows how to write about people and their intricate relationships in the most fascinating way possible.
LibraryThing member justjill
These stories about seemingly ordinary women in ordinary circumstances are nothing short of amazing. The kind of book you keep thinking about after you've finished it.
LibraryThing member miriamparker
The thing about these stories is that they work really well all together. It's the kind of short story book you can read all together, kind of more like a novel because they are interrelated and she does such interesting things with time. There's one that has a crazy soothsayer woman out in the cabin in the woods that I haven't been able to stop thinking about. And it's been a few years since I first read these stories for the first time in the New Yorker.… (more)
LibraryThing member kitamurdock
This is the first Alice Munro book I've read. I'll definitely read the others. She's a great writer, skilled at capturing emotions and relationships. I gave four instead of five stars just because, after reading all of the rave reviews, I expected the stories to impact me more. Still, great writing and I'd recommend it.
LibraryThing member pessoanongrata
I could only will myself to read through a few stories, and actually liked "Runaway", but now I can barely recall what I liked about it...which I suppose is characteristic experience of reading Munro: I'm mildly interested when I'm following the manicured path of her tales, but then I quickly forget about them. There is nothing here that is searing, or anything all that funny, no unique stamp of imagination in all her safe, pedestrian language and storytelling. I can tell she has a knack for tracing the emotional lives of her characters...but then I'm not that interested in her cut-out characters.… (more)
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
In this collection of short fiction, Alice Munro writes of love, betrayal, and missed opportunities. Runaway is comprised of eight stories, all with female protagonists. Three of the stories are connected, focused on one woman's relationships at three points in her life, several years apart. In fact, unlike most short fiction I've read, nearly all of these stories take place over a very long period of time. And yet they are taut and focused. Munro has the short story down to an art form: she develops characters, explores themes, and serves up well-crafted plots, all in about 40 pages.

I especially liked these two stories:

* Silence: Juliet, the main character in two previous stories, is now a middle-aged woman. She has lost touch with her adult daughter Penelope, and feels betrayed by her silence. In this story Munro also fills in details from the two previous stories, serving as a kind of dénouement for the trilogy.
* Tricks: When the story opens, Robin is a young nurse living in a rural area, with caregiver responsibilities for an older sister. Every summer she travels to a nearby town to see a Shakespeare play. One year she met a man, Daniel, who had immigrated to Canada from Montenegro. They agreed to meet again the following year, but things did not go as planned. The story then "fast forwards" to many years later, when both Robin and the reader learn what really happened.

Any of these stories would be much easier to write as a novel, where the author has seemingly unlimited words and pages at their disposal. Munro's ability to create such tension and emotion in short form sets her apart.
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LibraryThing member Allisinner
I haven't been a big reader of short stoies in the past but Ms. Munroe has seriously made me re-evaluate my reading preferences. I couldn't put the book down, each of the 8 stories captures my attention. The stories center on 6 central women, with some stories just capturing a brief couple of days and others spanning decades. The stories are so rich and engrossing you feel like you have novels about these women. I look forward to picking up more of Munroe's work and recommending them to friends.… (more)
LibraryThing member KinnicChick
I've never reviewed a collection of stories before. I've also never read a collection by Alice Munro. This will not be the last I read, however. I loved every story in Runaway. So much, that when I try to choose one story as a favorite, I cannot.

Ms. Munro has boiled each tale down to it's essence. She wastes not a word. Within each story is an entire lifetime, a whole world. About love and surprise and never anything expected or predictable. Because, after all, when the course of love runs smooth and predictable, would you want to read about it?

There are eight stories contained in the collection. I found each of them to be entertaining and beautiful. I especially love how heroic her female characters are, and how each story reads like a mini-novel in its completeness.

I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
I have long wanted to read something by Alice Munro, but never got around to it. So when she won the Nobel prize I started this book of short stoires, published in 2004. There are eight stories, the one which I found most striking was "Tricks" which tells of a girl who meets a man, a native of Montenegro living in Canada who runs a clock shop. She has lost her purse and he helps her and kisses her and tells her to came back in a year. She does and is repulsed by his twin brother, a deaf mute. She goes through life and only learns of her msitake after the man who kissed her is dead. This is a real story, and one need not guess about the events therein. "Chance" is also a deft story, involving a suicide due to a woman repulsing a man who wanted to be her 'chum' on a tramnscontinental trip. I did not much care for the other six stories in the book, though the prose is lucid.… (more)
LibraryThing member smallmeadow
I liked these stories, some more than others, and I found the Southern Ontario Gothic style reminiscent of Joyce Carol Oates work, which I enjoy but need to read with interspersed with less dark material. Munro doesn't seem quite as dark but the stories often leave you with a definite pull toward a "Stream of Pathlogy" by at least one character or another.

I will try some more Munro at some future date.
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