on 27 November 2000
A great book to dip into and a wonderful introduction to Alice Munro. Many of the stories explore relationships and look at the responsibility the characters take on board for mothers, fathers, children and step-mothers at different points their lives.
Munro uses straight forward language in her stories and everyday situations, bringing the characters to life by their reaction to these everyday occurances.
Some of the stories are romantic, like" There's Something I've been meaning to tell you", where we get an insight into the existance of two woman Et and Char, toward the end of their lives. The woman have both loved and lost and accepted "their lot" but the return of a child hood sweetheart to the village stirs up feelings.
Munro has many strong women in these stories, and manages to give them a real degree of sensitivity and softness along side the forcefulness that enables the characters to be opened up so that we can see how they got to be the way they are.
A great book to keep on the bedside table and read every now and again or indeed share.
on 15 October 2013
Selected Stories by Alice Munro is a real treat for those who appreciate the short story genre and who like their fiction to be unashamedly true in tone. Comprised of twenty-three bittersweet tales of Canadian life, Selected Stories is a perfect example of Munro's writing talents, allowing her to demonstrate her incisive understanding of human nature and to offer entertaining meditations on everyday life.
All of the stories in this collection are a delight to read, but a few do particularly stand out. "Walker Brothers Cowboy" is the collection's opening story and is a masterful evocation of life on the road and an exploration of the father/daughter relationship in which a young girl accompanies her salesman father on one of his regular post-Depression era selling trips. In one particular small town they encounter an ex-girlfriend of the father and the girl is left poignantly weighing up her own mother's disappointments with marriage against the ex-girlfriend's disappointment in losing out on a life with the man she loved.
Far more melancholy is the failed relationship central to "Material", in which a woman finds herself strangely moved by a short story written by her ex-husband. The woman had always expected her ex to be a failure as a writer and, while musing on his success since their break-up, she reflects on the folly of her own decision to sacrifice her literary ambitions in order to concentrate on the mundane issues of everyday life.
Similarly, in "Postcard" there is another woman destined to be unlucky in love and seemingly unhappy in life. After receiving a postcard from her fiancée who was supposedly holidaying in Europe, the heroine discovers that her fair-weather beau has actually gone off to marry someone else. Although she had believed herself to be fairly ambivalent to him, it is only after confronting the cad about the difference between his words and his deeds that she realises just how much she really cared.
Munro's stories generally have relationships at their heart and, whether those relationships involve parents and children, husbands and wives, friends or any other social interaction, her characterisations are neat and fitting and her dialogue is spot-on. Munro has an acute sense of social interaction and familial obligation and so the relationships in her stories are always familiar, however fantastical they may at first seem. She writes female characters perhaps best of all and so the women featured in Selected Stories are at the same time strong and sensitive, fierce and loyal, shocking and appealing. In-keeping with her skilful use of character, Munro writes an unusual kind of realism so that her stories continuously ring true even when something truly outlandish is slipped into the narrative. There is a tendency towards darkness in each of the stories, not horror but the darker, more desperate side of life that is most often kept hidden, and so there are no real happy endings, rather there are moments of insight and the potential for improvement. However, this does not mean that Munro's stories are grim, merely that they stand on the bleaker side of real, and so it is still possible to find humour and even some joy in her tales.
Alice Munro is arguably one of the finest short story writers of recent times and Selected Stories is a great example of her talent and range as an author. The stories included in this volume are sublime and deeply effecting and so it is an ideal introductory volume to those new to Munro's work.
on 17 April 2003
I discovered Alice Munro`s expansive, long-breathed, feisty stories late in the day. It was her collection `The Progress of Love` a few years ago, and I was heartstopped, exultant to have found such generous beauty, such honest and freely passionate writing. I am reading the `Selected` - taking my time with them, for each story is a world, a journey, though it only be from the house to the lake, which her readers know can be the most fascinating odyssey in itself - and marvelling anew at such gemlike works of art as `Material` and `Mobile, Montana`. Ms Munro is a great artist (in a way that, say, Doris Lessing, for all her brilliance, is not) and a very fine writer. She is by no means a `feminist writer`! Not only does such an appellation diminish and limit her achievement, it is plainly inaccurate. She writes with blazing clearness and wry compassion about women and men - as does, say, Doris Lessing...
To give this great writer less than a full 5 stars seems to me impertinent, to say the least. Read her.
on 1 May 2014
Full of interesting and promising thoughts and images. But they all remain mere potential in these short stories.
They are not fulfilled, thus making the stories somewhat monotonous.
Conspicuous too how almost all the characters are "serious" and sad, full of problems. Or maybe Munro just focuses on these aspects of life. The reader can be forgiven for asking himself after a while: Are there no happy people in Canada?
I do think that Alice Munro has - maybe not discovered but - mastered a certain area of things to write about which is not often written about, a certain niche of honest thoughts about life and relationships.
on 29 January 2012
This book came out in 1996 and selected 28 short stories published between 1961 and 1994, from seven of the author's collections through the mid-90s. There were four stories in it from the 1960s, nine from the 70s, ten from the 80s and five from the 90s. Seventeen of the stories from the 1970s onward had made their debut in the New Yorker. Since Selected Stories came out, Munro has published four collections of new short fiction.
Two of the very early tales here, from the 1960s, were the simplest and enjoyed the most by this reader ("Walker Brothers Cowboy," "Dance of the Happy Shades"). They were written in the first person and generally contained a narrator recalling an experience from girlhood -- incidents from time spent with a father, a piano recital -- or an adult recounting another's betrayal.
In the stories from the 70s, things started to become more elaborate. More characters and story lines, more locations outside the Ontario back country, and a greater focus on adult relationships -- women living their lives and looking for a place in the world. There were flashes forward and backward. The stories got longer. A decent male character other than the narrator's father was introduced ("The Turkey Season"). About half of the stories were written in the third person; the author's earliest pieces had also been of this type but were left out of the present collection. Most enjoyed from the 70s was "Chaddeleys and Flemings," the narrator's recollection of relatives on both sides of her family, their contrasts and similarities, and the passing of time.
From the 1980s and 90s, the stories got longer still. There were more pieces about married, separated, divorced or remarried women and their partners and friends. There were a greater number of works written in the third person, mostly from a woman's point of view but sometimes including other characters, occasionally even partners, ex-partners, friends or sons. Some stories were more open-ended, with motives or actions remaining ambiguous.
A few works from these decades mixed third- and first-person narratives, in stories set at least partly in the 19th century ("Meneseteung," "A Wilderness Station"). From these decades, most enjoyed was "Miles City, Montana," in which a narrator recalled a driving trip with her husband and daughters, paired with a memory from her own childhood, which she wasn't completely sure of. There was much else of interest going on in this work: a beautiful description of children, a near-tragedy, the relation between parents and children, and thoughts on death.
Many of the other stories from the later decades contained back stories, parallel threads or other description that were just too meandering for this reader, approaching self-parody. One example, midway through a story focused on something else: "She and Georgia worked out the history of the Empire window, and Georgia was added to the story as a grumpy, secretly Socialistic hired companion named Miss Amy Jukes. The widow's name was Mrs. Allegra Forbes-Bellyea. Her husband had been Nigel Forbes-Bellyea. Sometimes Sir Nigel. Most of one rainy afternoon in the Moghul's Court was spent in devising the horrors of the Forbes-Bellyea honeymoon, in a damp hotel in Wales." A number of the later stories were almost unreadable, but contained observations here and there that were still evocative: on the passing of time, aging, the end of life and so on. It was surprising that despite the frequent focus on relationships between people, so few of the pieces concerned long-lasting, mutual understanding between couples. The women in these stories -- and the characters generally -- often felt isolated from those around them.
This writer has frequently been compared to Chekhov. Similarities could be felt in descriptions of how life was lived -- the pathos, the way people soldiered on despite everything -- especially vivid when Munro wrote in the first person. But Chekhov introduced a greater range of characters and situations and offered a few of his characters the possibility of religious faith or redemption ("In the Ravine"). He was a master of brevity and -- especially in his earlier work -- humor.
I read Munro's collection while in the middle of something by an older Canadian writer, Gabrielle Roy. Roy's book involved a narrator's memories of childhood, of beginning to understand adult sorrows. It concerned elderly people who shared their wisdom with a child, and encouraged her feeling for the beauty of the land. Momentarily at least, some of the people in it could share their understanding and joy. In many ways, these simpler fictions of Roy were preferred.