What an amazing book! This not merely a good book for middle-aged women, or good instruction for girls, or any such claptrap. To label Munro as good "women's lit" is demeaning to women and demeaning to "The Lives of Girls and Women." (Plus it makes men who enjoy reading her a bit funny.) It's a great book! In any category!
Munro is a master of characterization and narrative structure. Del's description of her mother, for example, reveals: (1) Del's feeling of discomfort at her own place within Jubilee's hierarchy and environment; Del wants to fit in, and her mother embodies the eccentric within her own self. (2) Del's mother's strengths, pulling herself from abject poverty, putting herself through school, starting her own business in conservative postwar rural Canada - this woman evokes our admiration, despite the disgust of our narrator. It's these multidimensional portraits that makes Munro so great - yes, a character (Del's mother) can earn our admiration, disgust, and pity all at once...
Then in the building of conflict, Munro ALWAYS surprises us. Every scene is fresh, new, interesting, every culmination of conflict resolves in ways we would never expect. Take the time when Del was being molested by her mother's boarder's boyfriend. One day she goes off with him in his car out to the country, and we're expecting some "Bastard Out of Carolina" child-raping exploitation and subsequent weepy victim hood. But Munro makes a left at the light, has the man simply masturbate in front of the child, who for her part is excited, charmed, and repelled by the sight and is grateful to be introduced to the mystery of the penis.
And lastly, Munro refuses to depict her women in the same, old tired way. Her women are not dragged around by the hand by handsome strangers, as they so often are in movies. Her women are not victims of rape, incest, or peer pressure, as in way too many contemporary novels. No, Munro's women are real. They have drive, ambition, and a deep desire to be seen as people.
Definitely one of my favorite books, ever.