"In Alice Munro's new collection, we find stories about women of all ages and circumstances, their lives made palpable by the subtlety and empathy of this incomparable writer." "The runaway of the title story is a young woman who, though she thinks she wants to, is incapable of leaving her husband. In "Passion," a country girl emerging into the larger world via a job in a resort hotel discovers in a single moment of stunning insight the limits and lies of that mysterious emotion. Three stories are about a woman named Juliet - in the first, she escapes from teaching at a girls' school into a wild and irresistible love match; in the second she returns with her child to the home of her parents, whose life and marriage she finally begins to examine; and in the last, her child, caught, she mistakenly thinks, in the grip of a religious cult, vanishes into an unexplained and profound silence. In the final story, "Powers," a young woman with the ability to read the future sets off a chain of events that involves her husband-to-be and a friend in a lifelong pursuit of what such a gift really means, and who really has it."--Jacket.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I will try some more Munro at some future date.
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.
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.