After reading Lorrie Moore’s “Birds of America”, I was inspired to introduce more short story reading into my repertoire and to see what I can discover about the art of short story writing. Of course Alice Munro came to mind when I considered what short story author to read next. Since her Nobel Prize in Literature win, there have been many articles out about her writing and suggestions concerning which of her books readers should tackle first. A few articles recommended “Runaway” as a good starting place to get a feel for Munro’s writing, and so that is the book I have tackled.
Alice Munro is deserving of all the praise her writing has been given. Her stories were captivating, her characters were complex, and her writing was poignant. Her stories describe real moments within people’s lives, and examines all the complexities of emotions and human experience. Even if they are events you have never experienced, she touches on the emotions of that event in a way that every person can relate to the feelings she evokes. I think this amazing depth of realism is what makes her stories so lasting.
One of the things I am beginning to wonder about short stories is if there are any that are purely comical or light-hearted; because, all of the short stories I have read so far seem to have a vein of sadness pulsing through. Even in moments of freedom or happiness, there is some sadness that seeps through. For example, Grace in “Passion” gets given enough money for her to start a new life but only after the deadly car accident; or Juliet in “Chance” finally decides to go after the man she loves only to face a surly housekeeper and to discover he has a lover. (The most heartbreaking story for me was “Tricks” where love is finally found but then tragically lost.) I found myself feeling a little depressed after finishing Munro because it made me think of the sadness that seems to run under the course of life. I think it is a sign of a great writer that their story makes you examine your own reality, your own world. And although Munro caused me to see the inevitable pain in life, I also saw with appreciation the opportunities that my current reality holds for me that some of these characters didn’t have.
One thing that seems to set Munro apart from other short stories I have read is that some of her stories will span years of a person’s life. In “Powers”, she explores the relationship of Nancy, Ollie and Tessa. The short story spans over 50 years and has mini-chapters where the point-of-view switches characters, yet the story is seamless and meaningful despite all these occurring in only 50 pages. Munro is also not afraid to revisit the same protagonist in multiple short stories. Juliet’s life is featured in “Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence,” and I really enjoyed visiting multiple moments in this character’s life without having to read a entire novel centered around her. I think I got a better picture of Juliet’s life this way than I would have with an entire book devoted to her; because, each short story was focussed on that particular event instead of trying to convey some meaning to her overall life.
Munro is a powerful writer and she gives a solid portrayal of the little events that make up our lives, while also conveying the fluidity of emotions: sadness, love, regret, friendship, pride, anger, confusion. These are not uplifting stories but they will make you take a necessary deeper look at your own life. These engrossing snapshots of women’s lives and the choices they face will remain with you long after you put the stories down.
4.5/5 bacon strips