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Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Undiminished excellence..., 19 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Too Much Happiness (Paperback)
I first discovered Alice Munro by reading The Love Of A Good Woman. The second volume that I've read was Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. I've reviewed the later at Amazon, giving it that rarer accolade: 6-stars. The list of authors who only had one really good book in them is long; subsequent works were often pale shadows of the great one. Not so Alice Munro. She continues to craft short stories of undiminished excellence. There simply is not a weak one in this collection. I admire the tightness, the sheer density of her work. Like some Picasso paintings, with an economy of lines that are sufficient to convey the entire image, she presents the reader with an abundance of information with only a few sentences. Throughout her stories, she maintains the reader in a high state of dramatic tension. She bobs and weaves, and it is impossible to predict how she will end it. Ah, much like life itself, and it would be difficult to find a keener observer that Ms. Munro.

There are ten stories in this collection; the first nine are all slices, albeit extraordinary, drawn from contemporary Canadian life. In "Dimensions," there is Lloyd, a crazy ex-hippie who works as an orderly, and who marries Doree. The title suggests a new dimension that their two kids have entered. And the ending, indeed, one of those real life surprises. "Fiction" is quintessentially modern, with multiple marriages, different sexual orientations, and a wedding party that brings them together. Is it possible that one of the attendees, a new author, recognizes the woman who was once her music teacher? "Wenlock edge" is one of her "edgier" pieces, with two young women, one a veritable baby production machine, and the varying ways they maintain themselves via older men. I heard the screech of chalk on the board in this one several times. "Deep-holes" concerns the son of a geologist who falls into a deep hole in the rocks. Does it mark him for the rest of his life? He grows estranged from his family, and there is a heart-breaking reunion with his mother later in life - as with much of Munro, it is not what you might expect. The tension is strong also in "Free Radicals," as a woman, 62, with terminal cancer, must outwit an unexpected visitor. "Face" is all about a birth mark, and how that one oddity, like many others, so marks, as it were, the individual's relationships with the rest of humanity. Do they all make fun, particularly the "cruel" children, or is there some empathy, displayed in strange ways? The central character in "Some Women" is a man dying of leukemia, back when the treatment options were severely circumscribed. The title refers to the three women who surround him: his wife, his mother-in-law, and a woman invited to the home to give massages. The story centers on the interactions of the women; he coming on stage at the end in decisive action. "Child's Play" addresses again the cruelty of children, and a horrible secret that is carried to the end of one of principal character's life. Why, oh why can we be so heartless to those less fortunate; who drew the bad hands in life? And "Wood" concerns a man who works with it, loves it, and harvests it, and the premonitions of his wife.

The tenth story breaks the pattern. It is a fictionalized account of the life of Sophia Kovalevsky, a 19th Century Russian mathematician, who broke many barriers and molds herself. She became the first woman to teach mathematics at a university in Europe. That progressive step was taken in Sweden. The story concerns certainly her loves, her "white" marriage, the life of the upper class in late 19th century Europe, as well as those who hoped to bring it down, notably via the Commune, in Paris, in 1871. Dostoevsky, the mathematician Henri Poincaré, Charlotte Corday, and others are skillfully woven into this penetrating recreation of her life. For what it's worth, Kovalevsky has even had a crater on the moon named after her.

Like so many of her characters, Alice Munro is Canadian. She both transcends and places Canadian literature on the world stage, for she remains THE short story writer without equal. Again, with all hyperventilation aside: 6-stars.
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Location: Albuquerque, NM, USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 247