Top positive review
2 people found this helpful
A delicate touch
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.