When you read a collection of stories by Alice Munro, you need to give yourself a lot of time to intake what you have read. To so to say, “soak in” the experience. Her stories speak to you, they communicate in a manner you never thought they would. They astound you, they leave you speechless and sometimes they also wrench your heart – that is the power of Alice Munro’s short stories.
“Runaway” by Alice Munro is the first read of the year for me and I could not be happier for choosing this one. Her characters are lost and sometimes miserable. They are regular people, spread across the terrain she knows best – Canada. Having said that, the emotions and situations almost remain the same. It could happen to anyone, what happens to her characters – they fall in love, they experience the disappearance of a loved one, they are unsure and above all they are just human.
Alice Munro’s writing is of a quiet kind. Nothing monumental happens at the start of the story. It is just a build-up to what takes you by surprise or sometimes shock at the end of the story or in the middle. There are layers to her short stories, which sometimes cannot be found in a novel.
“Runaway” is a collection of stories about men and women who while appear sane and normal on the surface (so to say), there is a lot of emotional burden seething under. At the same time, they flow with the tide and give in to situations. Be it a housewife who wants to run away from her husband and life in the title story to a collection of three inter-linked stories about a woman Juliet and her life as it spans across time and relationships. Or it could also be of a girl grown up with her hippie and care-free parents, and waits as life unfolds in front of her, in an unexpected manner.
There is no other short-story writer I have loved more in recent times than Munro. Maybe Lydia Davis but that’s that I guess. A short story according to me anyway is more difficult to write a novel. As Jonathan Franzen, says in his introduction to the book, “I like stories because they leave the writer no place to hide”. This is so true. Short stories demand a lot from writers and sometimes only a master at her craft like Munro can deliver almost every single time. I would also highly recommend Franzen’s introduction to the book, which is a superb insight to the art of short-story telling and available only as a part of the UK edition.
I am very happy that I have read only two of her collections, because there is so much more to read of hers, so much to take in – the charm and lives of small cities, of how life goes on, of how it unfolds, little by little and does not stop there. Munro’s characters take a shape and form of their own. Her words get formed, slowly and steadily, till they become solid structures, which readers can go back to time and again. Here is one writer, who I hope continues writing, a lot more.
Also by Munro which I read and reviewed: