Author: Alice Munro
Publication Date: 10/26/04
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Blurb (GR): The incomparable Alice Munro’s bestselling and rapturously acclaimed Runawayis a book of extraordinary stories about love and its infinite betrayals and surprises, from the title story about a young woman who, though she thinks she wants to, is incapable of leaving her husband, to three stories about a woman named Juliet and the emotions that complicate the luster of her intimate relationships. In Munro’s hands, the people she writes about–women of all ages and circumstances, and their friends, lovers, parents, and children–become as vivid as our own neighbors. It is her miraculous gift to make these stories as real and unforgettable as our own.
Like many readers, I claim quite often that I am not really a fan of short stories, that is, I claim that until I come across the next good short story collection, like Alice Munro's Runaway. My imaginary dislike for shorts can surely be traced to reading too many poorly assembled multi-author anthologies. There are maybe two of them in existence that I can honestly call good. From my experience, single-author collections are much, much more satisfying.
Once again, I have a podcast to thank for discovering a new great author - this time, The New Yorker fiction podcast. The moment I finished listening to Munro's "Axis," I went straight to my digital public library to download me more of her stories.
What Alice Munro's stories remind me the most of are the works of another fabulous Canadian writer - Margaret Atwood, particularly The Blind Assassin and Cat's Eye. (Maybe Canadian books, similar to Australian, have a specific regional "flavor"? I am starting to believe they do, Canadian fiction tends to evokes feelings of cold, emptiness, spaciousness and loneliness in me.)
Munro's stories have the same structure, they are told through a prism of many years past, usually by a mature female narrator, who looks back in time and recollects a specific experience of her youth that changed the whole course of her life. The stories are told from a position of maturity and understanding, but with a feeling of a mild regret. In the present, decades later, those life-turning events do not sting as much as they used to, but the narrator knows unequivocally, they have changed EVERYTHING.
These events that Munro writes so beautifully about, can be quite trivial on the surface (like going on a wild car ride with one's passionless fiance's brother or being momentarily rude to an annoying passenger on a train) or traumatizing (appearance of a strange woman in a child's life who makes the strangest insinuations about the child's birth), but whatever these events are, they affect the narrator in a major way.
Munro's prose is deceptively simple and straightforward, but what she achieves with it is tremendous. Her fame as one of finest short story writers is well deserved.