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09 April 2006

Runaway (2004)

By Alice Munro

Summary by Peter Darbyshire for Amazon: "The stories take place throughout Canada and feature women and men drifting in and out of each other's orbits, pulled by forces they don't understand. In 'Runaway,' a woman considers leaving her husband with the help of a neighbor, but the husband has other plans. In 'Chance,' a woman leaves her life behind in a quest for a man she met on a train crossing the country. Their intertwined lives play out through two more stories, 'Soon' and 'Silence,' but the path they follow is as unpredictable to the reader as it is to them."

I read this book as the April selection for the MOMS Book Club. No other inducement could have persuaded me to finish the thing. Written by Canada's most acclaimed short fiction writer, this collection of seven tales read as an aging woman's examination of youth and her subsequent attempts to reconcile young adult impressions and emotions with a lifetime of experiences. Each story, although rendered with agile, succinct prose, failed to deliver on Munro's carefully crafted, underlying network of tension.

Had this been a novel, I would have thought it well worth reading until its finale, at which point I would have been vastly disappointed with a ho-hum conclusion. As it was, each short story provided a mini arc of build-up concluded by boredom or frustration. Munro took pains to create undercurrents of violence that hardly ever burst forth and to thoroughly develop each character, although they were relatively similar (awkward, socially outcast girls who remain on the fringe of society or bookish, insecure, coming- into-their-own young women who become well turned-out elderly ladies - and the men who inhabit their lives) - all of which consistently led to a mediocre finish. Each little disappointment made the reading process tedious, knowing I had X number of these tales yet to read, and created a rhythm of dull monotony. Ok, here we go again...

Either that, or I just cannot relate to a writer whose perspective in life is so vastly distant from mine. Perhaps this would have been fantastic read if I, too, was a woman in my mid-70s, reminiscing and nodding approvingly at Munro's observations and subtleties.

That aside, I am getting very tired of serious literary authors who haven't the guts to give at least one story in ten a happy ending. They fear being trite, but I get tired of all the unhappiness. Who lives in such a desperate fashion so consistently? Sigh.

Vocab: caryatid, maenads, thaumaturgy

Blogger Pacze Moj said...

I imagine I'm the furthest thing from Munro's intended audience, but, from the few stories I've read, it's a shame that she (along with Margaret Atwood) tend to hold the duel crown as Canada's best writers.

Good point about downer endings.

Blogger Tess said...

I've had this on my amazon wish list for a while now, so I was interested to read your take on it. (Maybe I'll get it from the library.) Honestly, I don't have much patience for reading short fiction; it seems like too much of an investment to become absorbed in a fictional world that only lasts for a few dozen pages.

That's a good point about happy endings. We all have at least some happy stopping points in our lives.


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