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3.8 out of 5 stars
Runaway
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
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.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 28 July 2009
I must qualify this review by admitting that I almost never read short stories, finding them the most frustrating of genres. I am aware however, that the genre itself requires great skill and craft to succeed, and Alice Munro obviously has both.

Alice Munro's collection in Runaway is of, arguably, the most frustrating type: the short story that is so good it can only leave you disappointed. Just as you get warm and cosy with the characters, just as you are drawn in and fully engaged, it finishes. The stories are all connected to women's lives and experiences, but not in such a way that male characters are either marginalised or sacrificed. Munro's characterisation is superb, and within a couple of pages the reader will feel her creations stepping from the book and into real life.

Her writing is at once disarmingly simple, and yet very powerful, and even though none of the stories are frightening in the least, I felt myself afraid at times. There's an invisible force, an element of suspense perhaps, that pulls the reader through each story. She really is a most remarkable writer.

A couple of the stories end in a rather vague - slightly surreal - way, that may leave some readers a little puzzled. They were the ones that struck me the most, and that I find myself pondering. Another group of three stories contain the same character, and that was quite comforting whilst they continued, although triply frustrating at the end!

If you enjoy short stories, I can't imagine you not liking this collection.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 July 2013
I think this collection is stunning. Alice Munro delves deep into the frailties and uncertainties of the human psyche. You begin to form an opinion of a character and then, with a swift flick of the writerly wrist, Munro turns that on its head and gives you a startling new perspective. Characters hide the truth from each other, or from themselves. People are found or lost.

She is a master of subtle suspense. Nothing blatant. She drops in those quiet, discordant notes that leave a niggle of intrigue at the back of your mind. Sometimes the answers follow, and sometimes it's a discordant note that will never be resolved - just as in real life. The problem could be as simple as a missing goat, but the layers of meaning and emotion surrounding that goat are tenfold.

Her lyrical descriptions blend in seamlessly, without any sense of literary conceit. There is an honest, down to earth quality about the writing. This is a craftswoman at the top of her game.

If you're looking for neatly tied ends and whack-you-over-the-head-blatant suspense, or you're uncomfortable with the transience of the short story form, this book is probably not for you. If (like me) you're an avid fan of the short story, buy it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2011
I haven't read Munro before and it didn't take long to warm to her writing. My problem was that I didn't realise this was a collection of short stories and the more I read the more I was waiting for all the stories to tie-in with each other. I got so involved in the characters and as each new character/story evolved I was desperate for the link. When this didn't happen I was frustrated. My initial thought was 'why'. Each story was so good, I just felt cheated that they were so short, surely each could have made a book in their own right.

On reflection, once I realised that they were indeed short stories, I admired the writer all the more for packing so much into each story and for making me relate to the characters.

I am still left with the feeling that I want more though.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2014
This is a collection of short stories about random people. Some stories contain the same people in them, some are stand alone, all are miserable. The stories were well written, but we're relentlessly down beat. The characters were neither likable nor relatable too and I found myself wondering what I was missing, or getting, especially as this is an award winner. Nearly all of us at book club agreed, which is surprising! Well written but morose.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Alice Munro is a great story teller and each of these short stories are different. She is quite a complicated writer and there is always the tendency to look back during and after reading one of her tales which makes them so vivid and real. e.g. What if this had happened earlier or What a difference one's life might have turned out if they hadn't been at a particular place or met such and such a person etc., Always fascinating and such great style.
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This is a quiet book in which there are few moments of catharsis, yet many moments that resonate and deliver a profound sense of the truth behind fiction of this quality. The story that will stay longest with me is that of Juliet, in Chance, who travels to see a man she met over a year ago and to whom she became attached, though he was married. His wife was an invalid and she has heard that she has died. She gets the bus to travel to the coastal town in which he lives.

"All Juliet's enjoyable experience of men had been in fantasy. One or two movie stars, the lovely tenor - not the virile heartless hero - on a certain old recording of Don Giovanni. Henry V as she read about him in Shakespeare and as Laurence Olivier had played him in the movie."
Juliet's story continues in, Soon, and then in Silence, relating a later period in Juliet's life. A woman's whole life seems effortlessly delineated within these 125 pages graceful and unshowy, yet with depth and delight.

As Jonathan Franzen says in his generous introduction, "The only adequate summary of the text is the text itself."
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on 17 March 2014
Each time I reached the end of one of the short stories in Runaway, I felt like in a small way I had seen glimpses into the most intimate and important moments of other people's lives. These stories are charged with emotions, with delicate and subtle feelings, with characters that come out of the page with real naturalness, more than in any other book that comes to mind. Alice Munro is able to paint her characters with great depth, with all their imperfections, with real, natural emotions, and to open up their worlds to us.

These may be "short" stories but each one seemed to contain more inside it than most novels I've read. I didn't in the least share the feeling of a previous reviewer who stated that the stories 'left him wanting more'; for me if they were any longer they would simply be too heavy, too demanding. I found their length to be just right. They tell us everything Munro wants to tell us - and with great economy, as she barely puts a word wrong in her beautiful prose.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 January 2014
If Munro was a film-maker, she would make the sort of films I like; those which focus on character development, subtle detail and the small tragedies of everyday life.
Some short story writers I can think of are William Trevor( whom I find acidic, clever,cold and somewhat cruel) and Colette who is nearer in terms of both her innate feminism and delicate and observant style.
Neither are the same as Munro. She is neare Edith Pearlman, but less magnanimous and comforting than her. This is no criticism, it is a different style, shot through with strange observations, the difficulties of being female and feminine and still wanting it all.

She is not an overtly humorous writer, although there is humour in some of her situations; an elderly 'girl' mother being bathed with her baby granddaughter by the baby's rather hypercritical and over-educated mother.
The routing of a pastor's entrenched religious beliefs by a fiercely intelligent atheist who in her youthful argumenation, does not realise that a pathetic belief is all the man has to support him against his fear of death.
The sudden menstruation of a young girl after a suicide; the evacuation of blood somehow horribly linked in her mind with the casual way she had treated the man's loneliness.
He fear of having caused his death rendered ridiculous by a fellow traveller who falls in love with her.
You will notice that the humour is astringently delicate and rests on misunderstanding and human arrogance.
I felt the stories veracious, as though they were entirely true little insights into love, ageing, loss and the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to.
Lives fill and empty like the ebb and flow of some metaphysical tide.
A woman loses her adored daughter for no really good reason other than her mind is apparently slightly messed up by a slightly unimpressive retreat group who have convinced her that her mother is lacking in charitable and worthy intentions.
He life continues parallel to her mother's but the two are separated by a gulf of unresolved misunderstanding. He mother's pain matures to resignation and even a reluctance to admit her daughter's existence to partners.
Wheels turn but their is no comfortable tying up, we are forced to live with the losses and sadnesses of the characters, as indeed we have to live with our own.
If this sounds heavyweight, it isn't. The prose is delicate, disarmingly so. Conversation is to the point and characters speak as you feel they really would. Details are added to add poignancy, a man's vulnerability is transmuted into a stomach described as a 'white pancake'. We do not disdain the characters, we feel for them as we would in a Chekhov story. There is humanitas here and also seamlessness. Any abrupt ending is intended.
One of the most unlikeable characters is the horribly louche and sinister riding school owner to whom his often melancholic wife has a terrible physical addiction unquenched even by an implied brutality. Her emotional delicacy is belied by her physical abilities and herein lies the key, the flesh is very weak. This reminds of Tennessee Williams' characters with their hidden quirks and sexual peculiarities.
Another unlikeable character, is the subtly dreadful and monosyllabic Irene whose hairy primal qualities have entranced a girl's father, invading her dreams with Freudian symbolism of which she is all too much aware.
In Munro the mundane becomes a clear iconography of character, few stereotypes here, and if they are, they know they are!
The word which was never said, the thing which was unwittingly left undone, the question as to the mystery of human relationships, attraction and repulsion- these issues are Munro's subject. The letter which skims over the truth, and the lives lived as if we actually knew what we were doing, which basically none of us do. This is truthful and profound.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 2007
Just finished Runaway, and now the problem is to find something to read that comes close to the quality of her writing and to the scope of her imagination. I am not a great short story fan, but hers are something else altogether - unmissable!
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