To date, I've read five of Munro's collections of short stories, and have reviewed four of them, including this one. The others that are reviewed are: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories, The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose and Too Much Happiness: Stories. Each I've given my own "extra" rating of "six stars." Of the more than 600 reviews currently posted, I've reached for the extra dimensional star only 25 times. And now it will be four times for Munro; the only author for me to go "extra dimensional" more than once. Obviously, I am...er...ah...deeply infatuated.
Regrettably, my review cannot hope to do her justice. For me, it is the edgy intensity of her insights into the daily lives of facially very unremarkable people. Her stories twist and turn; predicting the outcome is a fool's game. There is deep clarity in the meaning of her prose, which, of course, can describe some of the complex ambiguities of the human condition. Many of her stories span a lifetime and she can pinpoint how a childhood incident affects the character when later, they are in the nursing home.
Imagine life with a given name of "Euphemia"? She is the central character in the short story that lends its title to the collection. Her mother, Marietta tried to kill herself. Marietta's sister Beryl visits, with Mr. Florence in tow. Church is part of their lives, and how much is conveyed with such details as in the after-service restaurant that they dine in, on this very special occasion (remember, way back when, going out to eat occurred on only very special occasions?) they served the mash potatoes with an ice cream scoop. Imagine your childhood home turned into hippie commune, and the man you are with jokes about the "orgies" that must have occurred in every room. 30 intense pages, of a life, with supporting characters. A takeaway at the end: "Moments of kindness and reconciliation are worth having...in the setups some people like myself have now, than they were in those old marriages, where love and grudges could be growing underground, so confused and stubborn, it must have seemed they had forever."
And what does "Lichen" really refer to in the second story? The setting is a traditional summer cottage on Lake Huron. There are the women involved in David's life, an ex-wife, a wife, a girlfriend. From the sensitive portrait of Euphemia, and the complex turns in her life, Munro goes straight to the heart of a real scumbag, in David. "Monsieur les Deux Chapeau," the third story, is Ross, a very slow-witted, perhaps retarded lover of cars. His older brother, by a year, Colin, takes care of him. Colin is married to Glenna, and their child is Lynnette. Which thread, of several, will the story follow? Is it the concern of Nancy, a French teacher, who is worried that the engine in the car Ross is re-building is too big for the crankshaft, or is it a flashback to Ross and Colin's youth, and a telling incident that defines their relationship?
And who among us parents has not had the many worries of parenthood, and fears for a child's safety? The "Miles, Montana" story involves how easily your child might drown, certainly bringing flashbacks from my more youthful parenting. "Moon at Orange Street Skating Rink" starts in youth, and sneaking into the rink without paying, and then fast forwards a half century, coming back to the town, and looking up a friend of youth who never left the small town. How and what will she remember? Tidbits, addictively enticing from a few other stories: In "Jess and Meribeth," there is the husband who was an Aussie who walked out of Burma during the war; the high school friends who split over an imaginary affair, and Jess, who studies her Dostoevsky. In "Eskimo," is the woman on the plane being abducted, and does one have an obligation to "get involved" and tell the authorities? "Circle of Prayer" deals with the reaction of teenagers to the death of a classmate in a car accident. "Queer Streak" deals with a psychotic mind, who sends her father anonymous, threatening letters.
It is the sheer range and intensity of Munro's characters, and her concise depictions of the vital details that is the ultimate strength in her writing. The Nobel Prize is still overdue. Another 6-star nudge in that direction; there is at least consistence in the repetitive evaluations.