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This review is from: Selected Stories (Paperback)
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.