The Sunday Salon Review: Runaway, by Alice Munro

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?

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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.

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Read more from The Sunday Salon here.

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10 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon Review: Runaway, by Alice Munro

  1. That definitly gets me intrigued about reading some of Munro’s stories. As it turns out, I bought Runaway last weekend at the library’s book sale. Might have to bump this a little higher on the TBR pile ….

    • Well that’s a shame! You’re due for a really good book. Hope you find one (Let the Great World Spin just might be it) !

  2. Runaway is the only Munro collection I’ve read, and I absolutely loved it. I’m not big on short stories, but this collection did make me re-think my stance on them.

    I do want to read more works by her – most of the comments I’ve seen around indicate that all her collections are incredible. Here’s hoping. 🙂

  3. I have only read one Alice Munro collection – The View from Castle Rock – and I greatly enjoyed it, though I’m yet to read more. You now have me itching to read this!

  4. I’ve read about half of her collections straight through (and many of the earlier stories hit-and-miss) and it’s always been a question of loving a little less and loving more: I’d say you’re in for many more rewarding reading sessions with her collections.

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