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Winner of the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
Winner of the 1998 Giller Prize
A writer for the ages—Dan Cryer, Newsday
Alice Munro is indisputably a master. Like all great writers, she helps sharpen perception...Her imagination is fearless...A better book of stories can scarcely be imagined.—Greg Varner, Washington Post Book World
A riveting collection...a lovely book. Munro's stories move through the years with a sneaky grace.—Georgia Jones-Davis, San Francisco Chronicle
A triumph...certain to seal her reputation as our contemporary Chekhov—Carol Shields, Mirabella
Superlative...She distills a novel's worth of dramatic events into a story of 20 pages.—Erik Huber, Time OutM
These astonishing stories remind us, yet again, of the literary miracles Alice Munro continues to perform.—Francine Prose, Elle
Praise from fellow writers:
“Her work felt revolutionary when I came to it, and it still does.” —Jhumpa Lahiri
“She is one of the handful of writers, some living, most dead, whom I have in mind when I say that fiction is my religion.” —Jonthan Franzen
“The authority she brings to the page is just lovely.” —Elizabeth Strout
“She’s the most savage writer I’ve ever read, also the most tender, the most honest, the most perceptive.” —Jeffery Eugenides
“Alice Munro can move characters through time in a way that no other writer can.”—Julian Barnes
“She is a short-story writer who…reimagined what a story can do.” —Loorie Moore
“There’s probably no one alive who’s better at the craft of the short story.” —Jim Shepard
“A true master of the form.” —Salman Rushdie
“A wonderful writer.” —Joyce Carol Oates
Sonje was not the sort of friend who would tell you that she was trying to have a baby and how long she'd been trying and what techniques she was using. She never talked about sex in that way, or about her periods or any behavior of her body--though she soon told Kath things that most people would consider much more shocking. She had a graceful dignity--she had wanted to be a ballet dancer until she got too tall, and she didn't stop regretting that until she met Cottar, who said, "Oh, another little bourgeois girl hoping she'll turn into a dying swan." Her face was broad, calm, pink skinned--she never wore any makeup, Cottar was against makeup--and her thick fair hair was pinned up in a bushy chignon. Kath thought she was wonderful looking--both seraphic and intelligent.
Eating their French fries on the beach, Kath and Sonje discuss characters in the stories they've been reading. How is it that no woman could love Stanley Burnell? What is it about Stanley? He is such a boy, with his pushy love, his greed at the table, his self-satisfaction. Whereas Jonathan Trout--oh, Stanley's wife, Linda, should have married Jonathan Trout, Jonathan who glided through the water while Stanley splashed and snorted. "Greetings, my celestial peach blossom," says Jonathan in his velvety bass voice. He is full of irony, he is subtle and weary. "The shortness of life, the shortness of life," he says. And Stanley's brash world crumbles, discredited.
Something bothers Kath. She can't mention it or think about it. Is Kent something like Stanley?
One day they have an argument. Kath and Sonje have an unexpected and disturbing argument about a story by D. H. Lawrence. The story is called"The Fox."
At the end of that story the lovers--a soldier and a woman named March--are sitting on the sea cliffs looking out on the Atlantic, towards their future home in Canada. They are going to leave England, to start a new life. They are committed to each other, but they are not truly happy. Not yet.
The soldier knows that they will not be truly happy until the woman gives her life over to him, in a way that she has not done so far. March is still struggling against him, to hold herself separate from him, she is making them both obscurely miserable by her efforts to hang on to her woman's soul, her woman's mind. She must stop this--she must stop thinking and stop wanting and let her consciousness go under, until it is submerged in his. Like the reeds that wave below the surface of the water. Look down, look down--see how the reeds wave in the water, they are alive but they never break the surface. And that is how her female nature must live within his male nature. Then she will be happy and he will be strong and content. Then they will have achieved a true marriage.
Kath says that she thinks this is stupid.
She begins to make her case. "He's talking about sex, right?"
"Not just," says Sonje. "About their whole life."
"Yes, but sex. Sex leads to getting pregnant. I mean in the normal course of events. So March has a baby. She probably has more than one. And she has to look after them. How can you do that if your mind is waving around under the surface of the sea?"
"That's taking it very literally," says Sonje in a slightly superior tone.
"You can either have thoughts and make decisions or you can't," says Kath. "For instance--the baby is going to pick up a razor blade. What do you do? Do you just say, Oh, I think I'll just float around here till my husband comes home and he can make up his mind, that is our mind, about whether this is a good idea?"
Sonje said, "That's taking it to extremes."
Each of their voices has hardened. Kath is brisk and scornful, Sonje grave and stubborn.
"Lawrence didn't want to have children," Kath says. "He was jealous of the ones Frieda had from being married before."
Sonje is looking down between her knees, letting sand fall through her fingers. "I just think it would be beautiful," she says. "I think it would be beautiful, if a woman could."
Kath knows that something has gone wrong. Something is wrong with her own argument. Why is she so angry and excited? And why did she shift over to talking about babies, about children? Because she has a baby and Sonje doesn't? Did she say that about Lawrence and Frieda because she suspects that it is partly the same story with Cottar and Sonje?
When you make the argument on the basis of the children, about the woman having to look after the children, you're in the clear. You can't be blamed. But when Kath does that she is covering up. She can't stand that part about the reeds and the water, she feels bloated and suffocated with incoherent protest. So it is herself she is thinking of, not of any children. She herself is the very woman that Lawrence is railing about. And she can't reveal that straight out because it might make Sonje suspect--it might make Kath herself suspect--an impoverishment in Kath's life.
Sonje who has said, during another alarming conversation, "My happiness depends on Cottar."
My happiness depends on Cottar.
That statement shook Kath. She would never have said it about Kent. She didn't want it to be true of herself.
But she didn't want Sonje to think that she was a woman who had missed out on love. Who had not considered, who had not been offered, the prostration of love.
|The Love of a Good Woman||3|
|Save the Reaper||146|
|The Children Stay||181|
|Rich As Stink||215|
|Before the Change||254|
|My Mother's Dream||293|
1. In the first story, "The Love of a Good Woman, " how has the town of Jutland, its way of life and its mores, affected Enid's character and desires and helped to mold her into the person she is? What does she want from life and what compromises has she made? Does she believe Mrs. Quinn's tale of murder? If so, does it make Rupert more, or less, attractive to her? What exactly does she want from Rupert?
2. What does the author accomplish by dividing "Jakarta" into two parts--the distant past and the present? In what essential way do the two marriages (Kath and Kent; Sonje and Cottar) differ? How are Kath's and Sonje's different attitudes to marriage borne out in the subsequent courses of their lives? Might Sonje's conviction that Cottar is still alive be true, or is it merely an attempt to hold on to a remnant of her former happiness?
3. In "Cortes Island, " why did the narrator and her husband decide to marry, and how does the marriage evolve? Does the author imply that the same evolution occurs in many, or most, marriages? What sort of reflection do the Gorries and their rather grotesque marriage and menage cast upon that of their young lodgers? Why does Mr. Gorrie want the narrator to know about his past? Why is Mr. Gorrie, rather than any other man, featured in the narrator's erotic dreams? How does the narrator's sense of self change over the course of her story?
4. In what ways are Eve and Sophie in "Save the Reaper" similar in character, and in what ways are they different? Would you say that Sophie, either consciously or unconsciously, has modeled her life on her mother's? If so, is the situation changing? Why does Eve, in spite of her obvious fears, givethe vagrant girl directions to her house? What might the title of the story (a quotation from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shallott") signify?
5. How does Pauline, in "The Children Stay, " perceive marriage and family life? Does the author imply that the pretenses and the feeling of imprisonment that Pauline experiences are present, to some degree, in every marriage? Is the "bleakness" Pauline senses in herself and her father-in-law due to their situations, or their characters? Pauline says at the end that Jeffrey was not Orphée. Is she being honest? In what ways does "The Children Stay" echo or parallel the story of Orpheus and Eurydice? What role does the idea of fate play for the various characters?
6. How does Karin in "Rich As Stink" perceive the dynamic between Rosemary, Derek and Ann? How closely does her perception correspond with the reality? Would you agree with Karin that Derek has "given up on" both Rosemary and Ann (p. 236)? How much has Rosemary's wealth to do with her acceptance by Derek and Ann? Why doesn't Ann want Derek to see Karin in her wedding dress, and why is Karin determined to wear it to the dinner party? What sort of future do you envision for Rosemary? For Karin?
7. In "Before the Change, " what do the narrator's experiences at home with her father tell her about her relationship with Robin, its illusions, and its unhappy end? Robin differentiates "ideas" and "life"; is he being cynical or simply realistic? How are the narrator's beliefs about abortion and parenthood affected by her own mother's death in childbirth, and how are these beliefs modified during the course of the story? How do her ideas about love, too, undergo changes? Might she have made different decisions about her love affair and pregnancy if she had it to do over again?
8. In "My Mother's Dream, " what has the dream, described at the beginning of the story, to do with Jill's actual life and experiences? Has she known what it is to "leave" a baby? What relation does Jill's struggle with the baby have to her struggle with George's family and his memory? Would you say that this mother-child struggle is a universal one, extreme though it is in Jill's case?
Posted March 24, 2001
Each story is a maze of a woman¿s imperfect relationships: wife, friend, parent, child, in-law, grandparent, care-taker. They all point to Munro¿s definition of what it means to be female: a survivor.<br><br> Vivid settings and people over generations provide the satisfying click of recognition, but occasionally the click is a peal of revelation. In ¿Rich as Stink¿, how does an eleven-year old girl navigate complicated family relationships that come out of divorce? Step-moms, mom¿s boyfriend, mom¿s boyfriend¿s wife? Is she sullen, rebellious, obnoxious, withdrawn? Karin becomes a very careful observer of the nuances of adult behavior. She uses humor to deflect, distract, and engage the adults in her life, desperately hoping to maintain the ones she values and to hide the harm they have done. Karin is her mother¿s protector, in the end sacrificing herself to save her mom. After the final disappointment, young girls learn not to depend on anyone else. Even if you're not a fan of short stories, Munro is worth it.
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Posted May 1, 2013
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