This is a dazzling selection of stories–seventeen favorites chosen by the author from across her distinguished career. I have to admit to ignorance – I had not heard of Alice Munro until she was awarded the Nobel prize for literature and when she gained the spotlight, she gained one additional follower.
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, told by an elderly married woman to her younger friend 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.
Alice Munro’s Best contains 17 works:
- Royal beatings
- The beggar maid
- The turkey season
- The moons of Jupiter
- The progress of love
- Miles City, Montana
- Friend of my youth
- Carried away
- The Albanian virgin
- A wilderness station
- Hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage
- Save the reaper
- The bear came over the mountain.
I did like the stories a little. A little bit of Canadian fiction directed at mature women never hurt anyone. I loved how there was a clear differentiation between me and them type of thoughts.
“Poverty in girls is not attractive unless combined with sweet sluttishness, stupidity.”
I also liked how the stories felt like you were listening to your auntie or your grandma talk about her youth. It’s fascinating – all those tales about WW II, about unrequited love, about people who did not reconnect… but the more you hear, the more you eye the exit or start thinking of a polite excuse to stop listening.
Alice Munro is a cosy read, and if you dip into her works only occasionally, you are rewarded with little gems. Munro knows people, knows women, and even though some stories end up with a happy finish, reading several stories back-to-back made me realise that the majority of the main characters in these stories are very similar: female, middle-aged (or older) and unhappy in some way. The stories became depressing, and kind of predictable. Aren’t there any happy middle-aged women who don’t cheat on their husbands, or haven’t been cheated on by their husbands, living in southwestern Ontario?
I suppose that’s why Margaret Atwood did the introduction. She’s well known about her prose discussing the finer points of adultery and cheating spouses.
About the Author
Alice Munro, born as Alice Ann Laidlaw, is a Canadian writer who won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature and the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 for her lifetime body of work. She specializes in short story writing and is known for her easy-to-read and moving style that explores human complexities effortlessly. She is regarded as one of the greatest contemporary writers of fiction. The focus of her stories is her native place, southwestern Ontario, and she often describes the local people, their aspirations and lifestyles in her writings. She began writing as a teenager and published her first story as a student. Her first collection of stories, ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’ was highly appreciated and won the Governor General’s Award, Canada’s highest literary prize. Her strong regional focus and complex female characters are characteristic of her writings. Most of her works belong to the literary genre known as Southern Ontario Gothic. One recurrent theme in the stories she wrote in her youth was that of a girl coming of age and dealing with the associated challenges and confusions. Maturing as a writer and a woman, the focus of her stories shifted to the challenges faced by middle-aged and elderly women. A prolific writer, she continues to write even today, in spite of battling several health problems at the age of 81.