Following a recommendation from a fellow book reader on one of the book forums, I decided to pick up Runaway by Alice Munro. Runaway is a collection of short stories, all set in Canada (Munro is Canadian) and all with female protagonists.
The first story, Runaway, took me completely by surprise. Munro’s short stories are totally different from your run of the mill stories in a way that Munro’s stories do not really have a logical beginning and a logical ending. The first story was over just when I was thinking that the real action would start. It took me some time to digest the story and its impact. Once my mind got used to Munro’s style, drinking in the rest of the stories was relatively easier.
The next three stories Chance, Soon and Silence are interconnected and revolve around Juliet. The stories trace Juliet’s life when she meets her soulmate, her relationship with her parents and finally her daughter. I didn’t really like the first two stories but I found the third one really puzzling. The third story is about Juliet and her daughter, Penelope, and I didn’t understand the reasoning behind certain incidents in this story. In fact this is true for most of the stories. After reading the story, I would close the book and think about why someone acted in a certain way.
Passion is about Grace, who meets a boy during her summer job and decides to marry him and a few incidents thereafter make her change her mind. This was the first story which touched me. This is certainly not the best short story I have read, but I liked how Munro describes Grace’s changing emotions. I think this is a very well written story.
Tresspasses has to be my favorite story in this book. It is about a little girl, Lauren, her parents and a woman, Delphine, who she meets regularly after her school hours. Munro does not reveal that Lauren is only ten. I thought I had missed reading this bit initially, but a Google search revealed that this is a major point of discussion: Why does Munro withhold the information that Lauren is only ten? I particularly liked the last paragraph of this story about burrs clinging to Lauren’s pajamas. This paragraph is symbolic and has a lot of depth.
Tricks is the most straight-forward story in the book. If I had read this story individually, I wouldn’t have guessed it as a Munro story. Tricks is about Robin and a guy she meets accidentally. They decide to meet the same day a year later. When she goes to meet him, he refuses to recognize her. The ending was predictable.
Powers is the story of Nancy, her freak friend Tessa, who can predict things. This story is written in a different style. It starts off with a few pages from Nancy’s diary and later the narration suddenly switches to third person. The ending is the most puzzling. I still don’t know whether the last few paragraphs actually took place or it was just Nancy’s dream.
Munro creates a few memorable characters. I was intrigued by Sara in Soon, Grace in Passion, and Lauren in Trespasses.
Alice Munro is highly acclaimed for her short fiction. I find her writing style intriguing and her stories puzzling, to say the least. Munro is so skillful in expressing her thoughts or creating her characters in so little words. What is striking about Munro’s stories is that every story concentrates on a few incidents in the character’s life and doesn’t really reach a conclusion. She leaves a few threads loose intentionally and this makes the reader carry the story around long after reading it. She doesn’t serve the story on a platter, all ready to eat. She offers in bits and pieces and the reader needs to think about and question certain things. After reading the story, you are bound to question yourself whether you read the story properly. And hundred and one questions start floating in your head. It is probably this characteristic of her stories that people like the most.
I wouldn’t label Alice Munro as my favorite short fiction writer, but I would definitely recommend her to anybody who enjoys a short story and don’t mind trying something new. I myself am eager to pick up another Munro book.
PS: I read an interesting review which appears as the introduction in the edition I read.