Good morning, and Happy Mother’s Day to those who are celebrating today. I just finished a book last night, so this will be a combination Sunday Salon / Book Review post. It was a pretty good week for reading, coming as I did off my first total clunker 0f 2010. I finished two books, both very good. The first was Let the Great World Spin, winner of the 2009 National Book Award. Several days and another book later, I’m still thinking about the characters and their relationships with one another. This was a very moving book, and yet I had difficulty writing a review that effectively conveyed the range of emotions inside (my review of Let the Great World Spin). All I can say is, read this book!
I also read Runaway, a collection of short stories by Alice Munro. I’d intended to read it concurrent with Let the Great World Spin. While I’m generally a “one book at a time reader,” I often enjoy reading short stories and/or essays alongside another book. I find I enjoy them more if I allow time to digest and reflect on each one. But I couldn’t tear myself away from Let the Great World Spin. No problem, Runaway was still waiting for me when I was ready, and I made a point of setting the book aside, at least for a few hours, at the end of each story. This book was on my list for the Book Awards Challenge (it won the Giller Prize), and it’s been sitting on my shelves forever. Why did I wait so long? My review follows.
Have you read any of Munro’s other short story collections? Are they all this good?
In this collection of short fiction, Alice Munro writes of love, betrayal, and missed opportunities. Runaway is comprised of eight stories, all with female protagonists. Three of the stories are connected, focused on one woman’s relationships at three points in her life, several years apart. In fact, unlike most short fiction I’ve read, nearly all of these stories take place over a very long period of time. And yet they are taut and focused. Munro has the short story down to an art form: she develops characters, explores themes, and serves up well-crafted plots, all in about 40 pages.
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.
Read more from The Sunday Salon here.