Tuesday, March 25, 2014


"Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others."
Virginia Woolf

 Alice Munro’s short stories never fail to intrigue me. Some of the characters resemble people I have met in my life. Others are complete strangers who pique my curiosity and encourage me to try to understand them better. Even though I did not feel identified with any of the characters in this book, I found the stories compelling and the characters complex and interesting.
  "Runaway" is one of the best stories of this collection. It is about a woman, Carla, who happens to be in a dysfunctional marriage. She works for  Sylvia, a recently widowed woman who becomes emotionally attached to Carla --Sylvia never had kids and somehow she develops a subtle maternal bond with her. 
  One day Carla reveals she is not happy in her marriage, and Sylvia helps Carla leave her husband. Eventually Sylvia’s kindness is mocked. The story is intertwined with the story of a goat that Carla and her husband own. As the goat grows she becomes overly attached to Carla and appears to be a menacing force to her jealous husband. Carla is not the kind of woman who feels "trapped in her marriage" as some reviewers pointed out. Her identity is merged to her husband's identity. There is something perverse in that couple.
  Who hasn't been deceived by a person like Carla? Alice Munro knows how to make her stories real through her characters -- there is no sugar-coating here. I found the ending sad and disturbing.
 Each short story that Alice Munro writes is like a novel. Each character is  unique and complex. Munro knows how to escalate tension and suspense while she deals with inconvenient subjects. There is no hidden agenda behind these tales. Even when you suspect there may be one, she ends up shattering your expectations. 
 Alice Munro is incisive but not  preachy. There is no direction to hold onto. You can take your thoughts and reflections wherever you want to take them. Don’t expect Munro to do that for you. Yet she manages to unearth issues that we’d rather hide away and not discuss because it can be shameful or embarrassing. In some of these stories she dissects the human soul and  carves out its secrets ruthlessly.
  In "Chance", the main character, Juliet, is from a small town located on the East of Canada. The story begins in 1965, and  Munro gives us the opportunity to look out the window onto the mental landscape of the sixties and seventies. This story offered me a glimpse into my mother’s generation:
“The problem was that she was a girl. If she got married—which might happen, as she was not bad-looking for a scholarship girl, she was not bad-looking at all—she would waste all her hard work and theirs, and if she did not get married she would probably become bleak and isolated, losing out on promotions to men (who needed them more, as they had to support families.) And she would not be able to defend the oddity of her choice of Classics, to accept what people would see as its irrelevance, or dreariness, to slough that off the way a man could. Odd choices were simple easier for men, most of whom would find women glad to marry them. Not so the other way around.”
 Juliet goes against the current of her times when she becomes romantically engaged with a man from the West coast, close to Vancouver: she becomes pregnant out of wedlock. When Juliet goes to visit her parents the worlds of the East Coast and the West Coast of Canada collide, and this cultural crash triggers discussions and situations that are interesting and comical.
 The town where she grew up is certainly not the place that would welcome her choices:
 “In the town where she grew up her sort of intelligence was often put in the same category as a limp or an extra thumb, and people had been quick to point out the expected accompanying drawbacks—her inability to run a sewing machine or tie up a neat parcel, or notice that her slip was showing. What would become of her was the question.”
 Three short stories trace Juliet’s life: “Chance”, “Soon” and “Silence”.
  In “Silence” Juliet has aged and her daughter is a grown-up. It took me a while to realize that her relationship with her daughter, Penelope, ends up being a reflection of Juliet’s relationship with her own mother.
 My favorite short story from this collection is “Tricks”. I did feel a subtle connection to Robin because of her nature: she is a kind of “practical idealist”- even na├»ve up to a certain extent.
    Every summer, once a year, Robin takes the train to go to the theater in Stratford to watch Shakespeare’s play. One day something unexpected happens: she forgets her wallet in the restroom. A man offers to give her the money she needs to return home, but before doing so, he invites her to his house, where they have dinner together.
 The gentleman has an accent because he is from Serbia. The chemistry between them surfaces subtly in their friendly conversation. After they have strolled together to the train station, when they are about to say goodbye, they kiss each other like lovers, and their simple encounter ends with a promise.
 They both believe that their meeting is meaningful, so they agree to meet again one year later in the same place, and she would wear the same green dress. They would write no letters; they would not communicate in any other way.  Until the date of their reunion, they would do nothing for each other but contemplate life through the magical crystal of love.
  "Tricks" broke my soul into one thousand pieces; I promise you that there is no way you will predict what the ending will be like.
   All the stories in this collection have a character who seems to be escaping from something or somebody, either in an emotional or a physical way. 


  1. Hi Julia .. I've seen lots about Alice Munro recently .. and now with the rich reviews you've given ... I think I must get the library to get one of her books for me to check out.

    Thanks for taking the time to tell us about these .. cheers Hilary

    1. Enjoy the read, Hilary.
      I do believe it is worthwhile.
      Thank you for commenting.

  2. I've totally forgotten how much I love short stories--been so busy reading novels. It was a breath of fresh air when a friend asked me to read and review hers a little while back, and I haven't gotten the taste out of my mouth. Thanks for the heads up.

    1. Alice Munro's short stories are like novels due to their complexity. They entertain but they are also thought-provoking and touching. So I like this kind of read.

  3. Julia, those short stories sound very complex and very interesting. I’m especially intrigued by “Tricks.” I like that Alice Munro makes her characters real with no sugar-coating. When I read, “she dissects the human soul and carves out its secrets ruthlessly,” that got my attention. I will have to check out her stories, thank you for the comprehensive review. Btw, I always loved that quote by Virginia Woolf.

    1. "Tricks" and "Runaway" are the ones I enjoyed the most. The stories about Juliet helped me to understand my mother's generation and my maternal grandmother's behavior, but they also helped me to understand myself and to reflect on my own life.
      Her voice captivates me. l love it.

  4. Beautiful post my friend! You inspired me to read Alice Munro's short stories!!

  5. Beautiful post my friend! You inspired me to read Alice Munro's short stories!!

    1. Thank you, MS!
      I look forward to discussing the stories with you!

  6. Hi Julia,

    I prefer short stories. Much of that probably has to do with my attention span. From your detailed posting, I'm impressed with how you have made note of so much detail from her short stories. A lot of dimensions for such short stories. I like that. Of course, the mention of Vancouver is bound to get my attention.

    Thank you for this, Julia. A pleasant weekend to you, my friend.

    Gary :)

  7. I am a huge short story fan, and Alice Munro is one of my favorite writers. One can read her at so many different levels. I use her stories often to teach my literature classes. Great post!


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