Miraculously, these stories seem to have been written by a young writer at the peak of her powers. Alice Munro’s central characters range from 14-year-old Lauren in “Trespass,” through the young couple in “Runaway,” whose helpful older neighbour intervenes to help the wife escape, all the way to a 70-year-old woman meeting a friend of her youth on a Vancouver street and sitting with him to recall their tangled lives fifty years earlier, through a web of cheerful lies.
Three of the stories, “Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence,” are linked, showing us how the young teacher Juliet meets her fisherman lover on a train (and, by terrible chance, visits his B.C. home on the day after his wife’s funeral); how, years later, she brings baby Penelope back east to show her parents and learns sad secrets about their marriage; and how, twenty years on, she visits the estranged Penelope in her cult-like B.C. community. The result is more powerful than most novels, a quality in Alice Munro’s stories that has been noted by many reviewers.
The final story, “Powers,” spans 50 years and runs from Goderich to Vancouver and involves a cast of four characters, each of whom steps forward to dominate the scene, not least Tessa, the plain girl whose psychic powers take her on the vaudeville circuit. But it is Alice Munro’s own powers that dominate this collection and that will amaze reviewers and readers. How can she keep getting better? How can any one person know so much about the heads and hearts of so many different people? And how can she weave them together in stories that delight academics and ordinary readers alike, making each new Alice Munro book a runaway bestseller?
From the Hardcover edition.
READ AN EXCERPT
For five years Robin had been doing this. One play every summer. It had started when she was living in Stratford, training to be a nurse. She went with a fellow student who had a couple of free tickets from her aunt, who worked on costumes. The girl who had the tickets was...
Why is Sylvia so fond of Carla? Is Sylvia right, given the circumstances, to suggest that Carla leave her husband and give her the means to do so?
2. When Carla tells her parents she wants a “more authentic” life, what does she mean by this? How much does Carla know...
–Jonathan Franzen in The New York Times Book Review
“Wise, compelling and quite simply brilliant, Runaway is a gift to all of us …”
–Jane Urquhart in the National Post
“Like all of Munro’s previous, award-winning short story collections – which prompted The Atlantic Monthly to call her ‘the living writer most likely to be read in 100 years’ – Runaway is filled with memorable, if increasingly eccentric, characters whose lives unfold in astonishing ways.… Munro is not one bit bleak; she is steadfast, lucid, occasionally funny and thrillingly honest.… In Alice Munro’s hands, the smallest moments contain the central truths of a lifetime, in which disaster, honesty and hope are teased out as if indeed there was not a minute to lose.”
–Maclean’s, October 4, 2004
“Quintessential Munro at top form… with each successive collection Munro has demonstrated her mastery over the short story form, of which she is arguably the foremost practitioner in Canada and perhaps the world.
Meticulously constructed, seemingly effortless, these eight stories have an instantly recognizable Munro-like quality of plainness.”
–Maureen Garvie, Quill and Quire
“Runaway shows Munro’s own powers of verbal precision are undiminished. Her trademark techniques – the ability to sum up physical objects (the ‘damp and battered-looking little house’ on the forested coast of British Columbia), the creation of note-perfect dialogue – remain as sharp as ever. So consistent and seemingly effortless are her touches that one can’t even guess whether they now represent well-honed instinct or still the result of intense labour on her part to get the words right. It doesn’t matter.… Munro knows that it is not enough to create nuanced and utterly real characters. To engage the heart of the reader, it is also necessary to show these characters in desperate circumstances.”
–Philip Marchand, Toronto Star (September 26, 2004)
“She is one of those few living writers who, in the way of the greats, must simply be read.… A complex feast.… Any of her stories is more resonant and satisfying than many a contemporary novel.… Cynthia Ozick has said of Munro, that she is our Chekhov,. But like the character Juliet, Munro does not always choose to show compassion. Like life itself, she remains neutral. So she is our Flaubert, too. We couldn’t ask for more.”
–Globe and Mail, September 25, 2004 (reviewed by Claire Messud)
“It is vintage Munro, its twists of plot and intriguing characters keeping the reader riveted.… The women in these stories are all unforgettable.… She is a consummate artist, and has taken the craft of the short story to new heights.… The small communities Munro portrays represent a microcosm of our world, for the narrow-mindedness, the generosity depicted in the stories are universal.”
–Winnipeg Free Press, September 26, 2004
“Forget about all of the awards and the accolades. You don’t have to read beyond Runaway, the title story of her 12th book, to gain a sense of why she is held in such esteem by critics and readers alike.… When people 100 years from now want to know the interior experience of women at the turn of the 21st century – emotionally, intellectually, psychologically and spiritually – they will find no more honest and truthful account than in the stories of Alice Munro.”
–The Record (Kitchener), September 25, 2004