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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Intriguing Collection, 5 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Dear Life (Hardcover)
Alice Munro's latest book is an intriguing collection of fourteen short stories, set in rural towns near to Lake Huron, Ontario, where the author lives. In the first story 'To Reach Japan' we meet Greta, a poet who is married to Peter and has a young child, Katy. Greta is travelling on a train to house sit for a friend, while Peter starts a new job in the far north of the country. On the train, Greta meets a young actor and, after several drinks he suggests they go to his berth for sex. Greta leaves her sleeping daughter in their compartment and gives in to a moment of total abandonment with her young lover. When she returns to her compartment, Katy has disappeared and although they are later reunited, Greta is shocked that her moment of passion could have resulted in the permanent loss of her daughter. Feeling dreadfully guilty, Greta vows to always put her daughter first, so when she arrives at her destination and is met by an acquaintance with a "determined and celebratory" kiss, is Greta tempted or does she remember her silent promise to Katy and spurn his advances?

In 'Gravel' we are introduced to two sisters, who live in a trailer with their mother and her lover, close to a potentially dangerous water-filled quarry. The girls' mother has left their safe and boring father after becoming pregnant with her lover's child, and the two sisters' lives are consequently dramatically changed. The younger sister begins to adapt, but when her older sister, who is struggling to cope with their change in circumstances, commits an act that has terrible consequences for her and the rest of her family, our young heroine is left shocked and emotionally scarred. When years later she is advised to "Accept everything and then tragedy disappears... or lightens anyway" she tries to let go of the past, but with the terrible incident running continually through her mind, will she ever truly be able to move on?

In 'In the Sight of a Lake' we meet a confused lady who leaves her husband watching the match on TV and takes a trip in her car to see a specialist about her "mind problem" - or does she? In 'Corrie' we are introduced to the eponymous heroine who is described as having "bright white teeth...high cheekbones...and not much meat on the bone" who is lame in one leg. When Corrie embarks upon an affair with a married man, she finds herself in the unenviable position of being blackmailed by an employee of hers. When the blackmail threat finishes, we discover Corrie has been deceived in quite a different way to how we, and she, had originally thought. In the 'Finale' of the book, Alice Munro tells us the four works contained within are not quite stories but "the first and last - and closest - things I have to say about my own life" and these make for an unusual and interesting ending to the collection.

Alice Munro's clever and clear-sighted stories demonstrate how chance encounters and twists of fate can lead people's lives down quite different paths to those they had planned or imagined for themselves. These stories benefit from being read, absorbed and then, possibly, read again - you may find that you discover something second time around that you didn't quite catch at the first reading; so this is one to keep on the bookshelf for those times when you have a few moments to spare, but not enough time to get involved in a full-length novel.

4 Stars.
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