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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction to the Author's Early Career, and A Lot of Her Best Work, 29 Jan. 2012
This review is from: Dance Of The Happy Shades (Paperback)
This book came out in 1968 and contained 15 short stories. It was the first of the 12 or so collections of short works Munro has published to date.

The stories here were set in farmlands or small towns, presumably in Ontario's back country. The collection showed a range of narrative voices: in the first person by girls, although it was clear the narrators were adults and recalling events from childhood; by adult women, married or unmarried; and even a teenage boy. And in the third person, either omniscient or following the viewpoint of a woman or girl. Eleven of the pieces were written in the first person, and for me these were where the author's work was most memorable, particularly when she was speaking through the girls, recalling the past.

Examples included "Boys and Girls," in which the narrator recalled, amid a description of her farming childhood, a growing awareness of differences in the expectations for each sex; sensitivity was allowed only for girls, and not necessarily approved even then. And "Walker Brothers Cowboy," in which the narrator recalled a visit with her traveling salesman father to the father's old flame, with much emotion apparent but left unexpressed. For me, these were the standouts. Other stories covered a narrator's attending a school dance, a piano recital, and the first experience with alcohol.

What I enjoyed most in the pieces was the sensitivity to the passing of time; the strong moral sense, understated but present, as in the title story; attention to the complexities of family ties and girls' experience; a sharp ear for the way people speak; and a strong feeling for small-town life, which wouldn't be out of place in the American South. Where people knew everyone else's business, and a highlight for children was to visit the local pond or play in the cemetery. Even down to the "soft-drink bottling plant, some new ranch-style houses and a Tastee-Freez." Where men spoke as little as possible, when they weren't raising hell or playing practical jokes on each other, and women shared their emotional lives mainly with other women. One thing that felt left out was any reference to church as the center of the older women's social lives.

It was remarkable in these stories how remote the world of the women -- the main focus -- was from that of the men; after early childhood, their paths didn't often appear to intersect. Some of the stories contained families where the fathers or husbands were absent. On the other hand, mothers were frequently distant, sick and troublesome, while fathers were humorous, good with people and admired.

Besides the fathers in some of the stories, few indeed of the male characters were prominent or likeable. In some of the longer stories, the narrator's memories and descriptions seemed to go on and on; it was more of an effort to finish the last few. But even the least interesting of these often contained something striking.

The stories in the present collection were written between the mid-/late 1950s and 1968. In the pieces, there were occasional flashes forward and backward, but they were brief and the stories were mostly linear. Compared to works published later in the author's career, there was an absence of multiple story lines or extended jumps back and forth in time. Nor was there any questioning of a narrator's early memories, or mixing of third- and first-person narratives. Or anything focused on a narrator's partner and children, or set outside the back country or before the author's lifetime. Yet with a few exceptions, it was the stories in this early volume -- much less elaborate than the author's stories in later collections -- that were the most moving for this reader.
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