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Carried Away: A Selection of Stories

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Overview

WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE® IN LITERATURE 2013

Carried Away is a dazzling selection of stories–seventeen favorites chosen by the author from across her distinguished career. With an Introduction by Margaret Atwood.

Alice Munro has been repeatedly hailed as one of our greatest living writers, a reputation that has been growing for years. The stories brought together here ...

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Overview

WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE® IN LITERATURE 2013

Carried Away is a dazzling selection of stories–seventeen favorites chosen by the author from across her distinguished career. With an Introduction by Margaret Atwood.

Alice Munro has been repeatedly hailed as one of our greatest living writers, a reputation that has been growing for years. The stories brought together here span a quarter century, drawn from some of her earliest books, The Beggar Maid and The Moons of Jupiter, through her recent best-selling collection, Runaway. 

Here are such favorites as “Royal Beatings” in which a young girl, her father, and stepmother release the tension of their circumstances in a ritual of punishment and reconciliation; “Friend of My Youth” in which a woman comes to understand that her difficult mother is not so very different from herself; and “The Albanian Virgin," a romantic tale of capture and escape in Central Europe that may or may not be true but that nevertheless comforts the hearer, who is on a desperate adventure of her own.

Munro’s incomparable empathy for her characters, the depth of her understanding of human nature, and the grace and surprise of her narrative add up to a richly layered and capacious fiction. Like the World War I soldier in the title story, whose letters from the front to a small-town librarian he doesn’t know change her life forever, Munro’s unassuming characters insinuate themselves in our hearts and take permanent hold.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Munro stands as one of the living colossi of the modern short story, and her Chekhovian realism, her keen psychological insight, her instinctive feel for the emotional arithmetic of domestic life have indelibly stamped contemporary writing.”
—NEW YORK TIMES

“In Alice Munro’s hands, the smallest moments contain the central truths of a lifetime.”
—MACLEAN’S

“Alice Munro has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America.”
—NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

“Captivating . . . Munro does what most writers dream of doing and succeeds at it, page after page, story after story, collection after collection.”
—THE OREGONIAN

“From a markedly finite number of essential components, Munro rather miraculously spins out countless permutations of desire and despair, attenuated hopes and cloudbursts of epiphany . . . Every one of these women is different, and that is the wonder of Alice Munro.”
—THE VILLAGE VOICE

“Alice Munro is among the major writers of English fiction of our time . . . In Munro’s work, grace abounds, but it is strangely disguised: nothing can be predicted. Emotions erupt. Preconceptions crumble. Surprises proliferate. Astonishments leap out. Malicious acts can have positive consequences. Salvation arrives when least expected, and in peculiar forms.”
—from the Introduction by Margaret Atwood

A. O. Scott
"These are stories," Alice Munro writes in the foreword to her new collection, The View From Castle Rock, and at first glance this note of insistence may seem a little odd. What else would they be? What else, apart from the one novel (Lives of Girls and Women, which is more like a cycle of stories), has Munro written over the past 40 years or so? Not, of course, that she needs to write anything else. Those stories, 17 of which have been gathered by the author into a hefty new Everyman's Library volume with the title Carried Away, have built a reputation that Margaret Atwood, introducing the Everyman book, describes as "international literary sainthood." More to the point, Munro's stories are composed with a clarity and economy that make novel-writing look downright superfluous and self-indulgent.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Alice Munro grew up in Wingham, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario. She has published thirteen collections of stories as well as a novel, Lives of Girls and Women, and two volumes of Selected Stories. During her distinguished career she has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including three of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Awards and two of its Giller Prizes, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Lannan Literary Award, England’s W. H. Smith Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Man Booker International Prize. In 2013 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, Granta, and other publications, and her collections have been translated into thirteen languages. She lives in Clinton, Ontario, near Lake Huron. 

Biography

Even though Alice Munro is known for her love stories, don't mistake her for just another romance writer. Munro never romanticizes love, but rather presents it in all of its frustrating complexity. She does not feel impelled to tack happy endings onto her tales of heartbreak and healing. As a result, Munro's wholly credible love stories have marked her as a true original who spins stories that are as honest as they are dramatic.

Alice Munro got her start in writing as a teenager in Ontario, and published her first story while attending Western Ontario University in 1950. Her first book, a collection of short stories titled Dance of the Happy Shades, would not be published until 1968, but when it arrived, Munro rapidly established herself as a unique voice in contemporary literature. Over the course of fifteen short stories, Munro displayed a firmly focused vision, detailing the loves and life-altering moments of the inhabitants of rural Ontario. Munro takes a gradual, methodical approach to unraveling her stories, often developing a character's perspective through several paragraphs, only to demolish it with a single, biting sentence. Yet she also explores those heartbreaking delusions of her characters with humanity, undercutting the bitterness with genuine compassion.

Munro was instantly recognized for her debut collection of stories, winning the prestigious Governor General's Award in Canada. Monroe would then spend the majority of her career writing short stories rather than novels. "I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way -- what happens to somebody -- but I want that 'what happens' to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness," she explained to Random House.com. "I want the reader to feel something is astonishing -- not the 'what happens' but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me." Munro would only write one novel, Lives of Girls and Women, a coming-of-age tale about a young girl named Del Jordan, which is actually structured more like a collection of short stories than a typical novel. Throughout the rest of her work, she would continue to explore themes of love and the way memories shape one's life in short story collections such as Friend of My Youth, Open Secrets, and the award-winning The Love of a Good Woman, and her most recent, Runaway.

Because her stories are so unencumbered by clichés and speak with such clarity and truthfulness, it is often assumed that Munro's work is largely autobiographical. The fact that she chooses to set so many of her tales in her hometown only fuel these assumptions further. However, Munro says that very little of her material is based on her own life, and takes a more creative approach to inventing her finely developed characters. "Suppose you have -- in memory -- a young woman stepping off a train in an outfit so elegant her family is compelled to take her down a peg (as happened to me once)," she explains, "and it somehow becomes a wife who's been recovering from a mental breakdown, met by her husband and his mother and the mother's nurse whom the husband doesn't yet know he's in love with. How did that happen? I don't know."

As Munro grows older, her themes are turning more and more toward illness and death, yet she continues to display a startling vitality and youthfulness in her writing. A writer with a long and celebrated career, Alice Munro's work is just as compelling, honest, and insightful as ever.

Good To Know

Munro dropped out of college in 1951 to marry fellow student James Munro. The couple opened a bookstore in Victoria, had three children, and divorced in 1972. Munro continues to live in Canada with her second husband, geographer Gerald Fremlin.

Munro wrote on a typewriter for a good part of her career, calling herself a "late convert to every technological offering" in a publisher's interview. "I still don't own a microwave oven," she says.

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    1. Hometown:
      Clinton, Ontario, and Comox, British Columbia
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 10, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Wingham, Ontario, Canada
    1. Education:
      University of Western Ontario (no degree)

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from the Introduction

Alice Munro is among the major writers of English fiction of our time. She’s been accorded armfuls of super-superlatives by critics in both North America and the United Kingdom, she’s won many awards, and she has a devoted international readership. Among writers themselves, her name is spoken in hushed tones. Most recently she’s been used as a stick to flog the enemy with, in various inter-writerly combats. ‘‘You call this writing?’’ the floggers say, in effect. ‘‘Alice Munro! Now that’s writing!’’ She’s the kind of writer about whom it is often said – no matter how well-known she becomes – that she ought to be better known.

None of this happened overnight. Alice Munro has been writing since the 1960s, and her first collection – Dance of the Happy Shades – appeared in 1968. To date – and including her latest, the rapturously-received Runaway (2004) – she has published ten collections, averaging nine or ten stories each. Though her fiction has been a regular feature of The New Yorker since the 1970s, her recent elevation to international literary sainthood took as long as it did partly because of the form in which she writes. She is a writer of stories – ‘‘short stories,’’ as they used to be called, or ‘‘short fiction,’’ which is now  more common.

Though many American and British and Canadian writers of the first rank have practised this form, there is still a widespread but false tendency to equate length with importance. Thus Alice Munro has been among those writers subject to periodic rediscovery, at least outside Canada. It’s as if she jumps out of a cake – Surprise! – and then has to jump out of it again, and then again. Readers don’t see her name in lights on every billboard. They come across her as if by accident or fate, and are drawn in, and then there is an outbreak of wonder and excitement, and incredulity – Where did Alice Munro come from? Why didn’t anybody tell me? How can such excellence have sprung from nowhere?

***

But Alice Munro did not spring from nowhere. She sprang –though it’s a verb her characters would find overly sprightly, and indeed pretentious – from Huron County, in south-western Ontario.

Ontario is the large province of Canada that stretches from the Ottawa River to the western end of Lake Superior. This is a huge and varied space, but south-western Ontario is a distinct part of it. It was named Sowesto by the painter Greg Curnoe, a name that has stuck. Curnoe’s view was that Sowesto was an area of considerable interest, but also of considerable psychic murkiness and oddity, a view shared by many. Robertson Davies, also from Sowesto, used to say, ‘‘I know the dark folkways of my people,’’ and Alice Munro knows them, too. You are likely to run into quite a few signs in Sowesto wheat fields telling you to be prepared to meet your God, or else your doom – felt to be much the same thing.

Lake Huron lies at the western edge of Sowesto, Lake Erie to the south. The country is mostly flat farmland, cut by several wide, winding rivers prone to flooding, and on the rivers –because of the available boat transport, and the power provided by water-driven mills – a number of smaller and larger towns grew up in the nineteenth century. Each has its red-brick town hall (usually with a tower), each its post-office building and its handful of churches of various denominations, each its main street and its residential section of gracious homes, and its other residential section on the wrong side of the tracks. Each has its families with long memories and stashes of bones in the closets.

Sowesto contains the site of the famous Donnelly Massacre of the nineteenth century, when a large family was slaughtered and their home burnt as a result of political resentments carried over from Ireland. Lush nature, repressed emotions, respectable fronts, hidden sexual excesses, outbreaks of violence, lurid crimes, long-held grudges, strange rumours – none are ever far away in Munro’s Sowesto, partly because all have been provided by the real life of the region itself.

Oddly enough, a number of writers have come from Sowesto. Oddly, because when Alice Munro was growing up in the 1930s and ’40s, the idea of a person from Canada – but especially one from small-town south-western Ontario – thinking they could be a writer to be taken seriously in the world at large was laughable. Even by the ’50s and ’60s there were very few publishers in Canada, and these were mostly textbook  publishers who imported whatever so-called literature was to be had from England and the United States. There might be some amateur theatre – high-school performances, Little Theatre groups. There was, however, the radio, and in the ’60s Alice Munro got her start through a CBC programme called Anthology, produced by Robert Weaver.

But very few Canadian writers of any sort were known to an international readership, and it was taken for granted that if you had hankerings of that kind – hankerings about which you would of course feel defensive and ashamed, because art was not something a grown-up morally credible person would fool around with – it would be best for you if you left the country. Everyone knew that writing was not a thing you could ever expect to make your living at.

It might be marginally acceptable to dabble around the edges of water-colour painting or poetry if you were a certain kind of man, described by Munro in ‘‘The Turkey Season’’: ‘‘There were homosexuals in town, and we knew who they were: an elegant, light-voiced, wavy-haired paperhanger who called himself an interior decorator; the minister’s widow’s fat, spoiled only son, who went so far as to enter baking contests and had crocheted a tablecloth; a hypochondriacal church organist and music teacher who kept the choir and his pupils in line with screaming tantrums.’’ Or you could do art as a hobby, if you were a woman with time on your hands, or you could scrape out a living at some poorly paid quasi-artistic job. Munro’s stories are sprinkled with women like this. They go in for piano-playing, or write chatty newspaper columns. Or – more tragically – they have a real though small talent, like Almeda Roth in ‘‘Meneseteung,’’ but there is no context for them. Almeda produces one volume of minor verse, published in 1873, called Offerings:


The local paper, the
Vidette, referred to her as ‘‘our poetess.’’ There seems to be a mixture of respect and contempt, both for her calling and for her sex – or for their predictable conjuncture.

At the beginning of the story Almeda is a maiden lady whose family has died. She lives alone, preserves her good name, and does charitable works. But by the end, the dammed-up river of art has overflowed – helped on by hefty doses of laudanumlaced painkiller – and it sweeps her rational self away:


Poems, even. Yes, again, poems. Or one poem. Isn’t that the idea – one very great poem that will contain everything and, oh, that will make all the other poems, the poems she has written, inconsequential, mere trial and error, mere rags? . . . The name of the poem is the name of the river. No, in fact it is the river, the Meneseteung . . . Almeda looks deep, deep into the river of her mind and into the tablecloth, and she sees the crocheted roses floating.

This seemed to be the fate of an artist – of necessity, a minor artist – in the small Sowesto towns of yore: silence enforced by the need for respectability, or else an eccentricity verging on madness. If you moved to a larger Canadian city, you might at least find a few others of your ilk, but in the small towns of Sowesto you’d be on your own. Nevertheless, John Kenneth Galbraith, Robertson Davies, Marian Engel, Graeme Gibson, and James Reaney all came out of Sowesto; and Alice Munro herself – after a spell on the west coast – moved back there, and lives at present not far from Wingham, the prototype of the various Jubilees and Walleys and Dalgleishes and Hanrattys in her stories.

Through Munro’s fiction, Sowesto’s Huron County has joined Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County as a slice of land made legendary by the excellence of the writer who has celebrated it, though in both cases ‘‘celebrated’’ is not quite the right word. ‘‘Anatomized’’ might be closer to what goes on in the work of Munro, though even that term is too clinical. What should we call the combination of obsessive scrutiny, archeological unearthing, precise and detailed recollection, the wallowing in the seamier and meaner and more vengeful undersides of human nature, the telling of erotic secrets, the nostalgia for vanished miseries, and rejoicing in the fullness and variety of life, stirred all together?

At the end of Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women (1971), her only novel and a bildungsroman – a novel of development, in this case a portrait of the artist as a young girl – there’s a telling passage. Del Jordan of Jubilee, who has by now – true to her last name – crossed over into the promised land of womanhood and also of writerhood, says of her adolescence:

It did not occur to me then that one day I would be so greedy for Jubilee. Voracious and misguided as Uncle Craig out at Jenkin’s Bend, writing his history, I would want to write things down. I would try to make lists. A list of all the stores and businesses going up and down the main street and who owned them, a list of family names, names on the tombstones in the cemetery and any inscriptions underneath . . .

The hope of accuracy we bring to such tasks is crazy, heartbreaking. And no list could hold what I wanted, for what I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together – radiant, everlasting.

As a programme for a life’s work this is daunting. Nevertheless it’s a programme Alice Munro was to follow over the next thirty-five years with remarkable fidelity.

***

Alice Munro was born Alice Laidlaw, in 1931, which means that she was a small child during the Depression. She was eight in 1939, the year Canada entered the Second World War, and she attended university – the University of Western Ontario, in London – in the postwar years. She was twenty-five and a young mother when Elvis Presley first became famous, and thirty-eight at the time of the flower-child revolution and the advent of the women’s movement in 1968–9, a moment in time that saw the publication of her first book. In 1981 she was fifty. Her stories are set mainly over these years – the ’30s to the ’80s – or even before then, in the time of ancestral memory.

Her own ancestry was partly Scotch Presbyterian: she can trace her family back to James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, friend of Robert Burns and the Edinburgh literati of the late eighteenth century, and author of The Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which could itself be a Munro title. On the other side of the family there were Anglicans, for whom the worst sin is said to consist of using the wrong fork at dinner. Munro’s acute consciousness of social class, and of the minutiae and sneers separating one level from the next, is honestly come by, as is – from the Presbyterians – her characters’ habit of rigorously examining their own deeds, emotions, motives, and consciences, and finding them wanting. In a traditional Protestant culture, such as that of small-town Sowesto, forgiveness is not easily come by, punishments are frequent and harsh, potential humiliation and shame lurk around every corner, and nobody gets away with much.

But this tradition also contains the doctrine of justification by faith alone: grace descends upon us without any action on our part. In Munro’s work, grace abounds, but it is strangely disguised: nothing can be predicted. Emotions erupt. Preconceptions crumble. Surprises proliferate. Astonishments leap out. Malicious acts can have positive consequences. Salvation arrives when least expected, and in peculiar forms. But as soon as you make such a pronouncement about Munro’s writing – or any other such analysis, inference, or generalization about it – you’re aware of that mocking commentator so often present in a Munro story – the one who says, in essence, Who do you think you are? What gives you the right to think you know anything about me, or about anyone else for that matter? Or, to quote from Lives of Girls and Women again, ‘‘People’s lives . . . were dull, simple, amazing and unfathomable – deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum.’’ The key word here is ‘‘unfathomable.’’

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Table of Contents

Introduction by Margaret Atwood
Select Bibliography
Chronology

Royal Beatings
The Beggar Maid
The Turkey Season
The Moons of Jupiter
The Progress of Love
Miles City, Montana
Friend of My Youth
Meneseteung
Differently
Carried Away
The Albanian Virgin
A Wilderness Station
Vandals
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
Save the Reaper
Runaway
The Bear Came Over the Mountain

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  • Posted October 18, 2014

    Transformative

    I'm a guy. Guys like me don't usually read books like this. Some woman in my book club recommended Alice Munro for one of our selections. I'm now a fan! This is an excellent collection of some of Ms. Munro's finest short stories, written over the course of her Nobel Prize-winning career. Simply put, she's quite a marvelous writer, and that's an understatement.

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