31 May 2010


I always find it hard to write about story collections, particularly those containing exceptional stories - do you write about the whole thing or about the individual pieces?

I read Alice Munro's Runaway as the May 2010 selection for my "Literature by Women" group.  Munro has been on my "you ought to read that" longlist for quite some time but I never got around to picking out one of her books to read (an earlier collection containing "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" caught my attention after watching Sarah Polley's adaptation Away From Her - a beautiful adaptation of a heart-wrenching story).  Runaway was awarded the 2004 Giller Prize, not to mention Munro's richly-deserved 2009 International Man Booker awarded for her body of work.

The stories in Runaway all deal with women retreating from some idea or situation.  The title story follows a young woman who impusively tries to leave her abusive marriage.  "Trespasses" follows a young teen befriended by a woman who turns out to have ulterior motives.  In "Passion" an orphaned young woman, Grace, shakes off her emotionally-dry-but-proper-and-capable steady boyfriend in an unexpected joyride with his drunken elder brother.  Two sections of Runaway are made up of linked stories to create two novellas.  "Chance", "Soon", and "Silence" follow Juliet as she runs away from her established path, her parents' disapproval, and Juliet's daughter runs away from her.  "Powers" consists of five stories following Tessa, a psychic, who ends up in a spot of trouble due to her visions.

The most remarkable thing about Munro is her writing style, something I had not noticed until I went back and re-read the first few chapters of Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer (specifically Chapter 2 - "Words").  Munro does not ascribe to the creed of "show, don't tell" - the example story Prose uses is "Dulse" from Selected Stories where she points out that Munro doesn't waste time having the reader "see" Lydia working as an editor or writing poetry.  Munro tells us that's what Lydia does then gets down to business.  The same style is present here; Juliet muses on her life of teaching while she reads her Greek history book on the train - we don't see Juliet teaching because it's not necessary to Munro's story and she doesn't bother with it.  Her words slice into your brain effectively because there isn't any fluff to slow them down.

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