This is my review of New Selected Stories by Alice Munro.
Why is Alice Munro regarded widely described as one of the greatest female short story writers, yet also perhaps read less than this accolade would suggest?
This selection from five collections covering the decade 1998-2009 displays the key aspects of her writing. On one hand, stories which are often as long as 30-40 pages, loosely plotted to allow digressions into the lives of various characters, generally lacking in suspense or dramatic endings, or pithy punchlines. On the other, very acute observation of human behaviour and empathy with their thoughts and emotions, a strong sense and apparent love of the Canadian landscape and seasons, and a deceptive rambling in stories which maintain a clear underlying purpose and momentum.
I particularly enjoyed "The Bear came over the Mountain", about a sensitive and creative woman whose Alzheimer's has become sufficiently serious for her husband to place her in a home. When she forms an attachment to another resident, is this a kind of revenge for her husband's serial infidelity? What makes this story interesting is that it is written from the husband's perspective. Although sad in places, this is too insightful and at times sharply witty to be depressing.
On a lighter note, I appreciated "Chance" about an academically inclined but uncertain young woman on the brink of her adult life and possible career, who responds to a letter from a married man she has met by chance on a train. To what extent is she choosing her fate?
The three stories selected from "Too much Happiness" were the ones I enjoyed most in that collection: the woman who has suffered terribly from a controlling man, the woman estranged from a son whom she loves who drifts into a lifestyle she finds alien, and, most gripping of all, the widow who has to deal with a sinister guest.
I found it hard to get into the first story "The Love of a Good Woman" which seemed quite disjointed with too diffuse an opening section for me. "My Mother's Dream" written apparently from the viewpoint of a baby is also highly original and imaginative, but not to everyone's taste.
Perhaps one is most drawn to the stories which reflect one's own experience, so that the range of Munro's topics make it likely that there will be something for everyone. Also, each story gives a great deal to discuss, as we are likely to come away with some different perceptions of each tale.