Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.
I’d been meaning to read Alice Munro for awhile. People are always talking about her and how kickass she is. So I picked up two of her books of stories and read them both at the same time, just to be hard core about it.
Most of Munro’s books are stories–all but two I think–and I somewhat randomly selected The Love of a Good Woman and Runaway. Immediately clear is that while Munro’s stories feel entirely distinct from one another, they have a lot in common.
The first thing you’ll notice is she focuses on female characters and the relationships they develop–friendships and parenthood, but also their relationships with men. She captures this sense of marriage as “trying something out,” even when her characters have been married or committed for years. Not to say that they don’t take it seriously, but she hones in on the reality that you don’t know exactly what you’re getting into, or where your lives may lead ahead of time. Things continue to change throughout a lifetime. And while it’s hard to fit a lifetime into a short story, many of the stories are quite long, and in Runaway, a few stories are linked, so that we do get to follow the protagonist, Juliet, throughout much of her life’s journey.
The lives of Munro’s characters unfold as the women grow up and change and life happens, and it made me think about how one-dimensional we sometimes imagine our lives will be. In my twenties (okay, maybe still), I tended to imagine that I would eventually have a job with actual job security, be married, have kids, live in a permanent place, and once that was wrapped up, there would be no more big questions to answer–I could just coast. But now that I’m getting older (doesn’t 30 make me, like, middle-aged?) and oh-so-wise, I realize how much my life is changing and how much it will continue to change even if I ever have a great, totally secure job, a family, and whatever else makes me think I have things figured out.
We watch too many movies where marriage is an end point, not a beginning, and we focus so much on achieving milestones, but imagine if there was nothing else to challenge us after we tick off these items on our lists?
I think I’ve gotten away from the point of this post which was supposed to be about Alice Munro’s awesomeness. There was a reason people were telling me to read her, actually several. And it’s not just ’cause she got me thinking I’m not really all that old and my life’s not over yet. She’s really great at getting the complexities of a character without writing them in such a close way that we can’t still peer in on them with our own opinions, judgements and objectivity. She has the ability to write a novel’s worth in a story, which may be why she hasn’t felt the need to write too many novels. She writes a lot about summer homes, which is neither here nor there, but unusual. And she has that thing we call a “command of language” and the ability to captivate. Stuff happens in her stories–not because her plotlines are dramatic, but because she gives them a hint of mystery and an energy, as though something mystical is at work, and anything could happen.
Image from Random House.