Top positive review
16 people found this helpful
on 21 December 2011
I think that this is one of the best volumes of fiction I've read.
I thought that that was worth a paragraph on its own. I was going to suggest that Munro appears to be one of the best short story writers of all time, but the distinction seems irrelevant. 'Runaway' isn't difficult reading, but it is worth taking it at a steady pace if you want to get the best out of it. There's often a temptation with fiction to skim what appears to be long-winded description or mundane dialogue, but nothing is wasted here, even though the stories are, at forty pages on average, quite long for short fiction. Consequently, when I was halfway through reading these stories, I felt as if I was deep into a full-length novel.
Munro's point of view is always given to a female character and the cover of my copy suggests yet another instance of a publisher aiming a female author at a female market, which doesn't do the quality of the content justice. Jonathan Frantzen, who writes the introduction, touches on this point. While it is heavily slanted toward a woman's outlook, its themes can be appreciated by men too.
Munro's characters find themselves in realistic situations, a troubled marriage, an unexpected romance, a problem of identity perhaps. Most short stories focus on the development of one thread, but by extending the form slightly, Munro is able to add the occasional twist or unexpected development, often revealing a concealed backstory. Her characters also therefore have some big decisions to make and are prone to taking the wrong course or changing their minds, as we all too often do.
Stories two to four are chronological episodes of the same character's life, but otherwise the stories are unconnected. There's a strong element of suspense in them too. 'Tricks', for example, which deals with an unusual romance, contains as much tension as a crime thriller.
Having said that the short fiction distinction is irrelevant, I think it's still interesting to compare Munro with other renowned short story writers. My favourites prior to this were W. Somerset Maugham, Raymond Carver, M. R. James and Damon Runyon. I love most of Maugham's novels too, but while he is usually brilliant, I don't think he is quite as consistent in this form. Carver, a poet, cuts everything back to the bone; like Munro, he wastes nothing, but his style is more snapshot, not better or worse, just very different. James and Runyon I like for their suspense and humour respectively, together with their individuality, rather than the quality of their prose, and both are one-offs. I know Chekhov is highly regarded, but his relentless misery bores me, while William Trevor, also highly regarded, I feel writes great novels rather than great short stories. In short, I don't think I've read a better collection than this.