by Alice Munro (2004)
Beautiful stories well-told, stories of loss, secrets, desire and flawed love. Beautiful stories well-told, that’s what I keep coming back to. It’s the sentence that describes why I simultaneously like this book and find it frustrating.
On my recent exploration of short stories I’ve been looking for more than just “beautiful stories well-told.” I feel like there are so many authors and collections out there that this should be sort of a bare minimum for what is acceptable reading. But I want interesting stories well-told. Collar-grabbing stories. Or maybe bold stories poorly told. I want something beyond the expected, and that’s not what I found here.
The most unexpected thing here is that Munro writes three stories off of one group of characters, the Juliet/Penelope/Christa axis found in “Chance,” “Soon” and “Silence.” I don’t think I’d ever seen that and I liked it, dipping into Juliet’s life in three differently harrowing moments. “Silence” was maybe the most memorable story of the bunch, a truly horrifying mother’s nightmare that got me really wound up as a parent myself.
See, I like stuff that I haven’t seen before, and I am honest about it when I find it. And Munro did it here, if briefly. But otherwise, if “beyond the expected” is your preferred criteria here you’re going to be disappointed. Every single story is about a (white) Canadien woman who has “never belonged” for one reason or another (often because she’s smarter than the surrounding yokels) and either searches for or finds something that confirms her exceptionality. In other words, this collection does not pass my “do-they-all-blend-together?” test that I developed just recently on the magnificent collection You Are Not a Stranger Here (see my review).
Munro’s writing is not as blandly sterile as someone like Jhumpa Lahiri in her Interpreter of Maladies, but neither is she as edgy or audacious as Adam Haslett. Still looking for some white female authors of literary fiction to step up and ring my edgy bell. I know they’re out there and I feel like maybe I’m getting a little warmer with this.
But I’m not looking for warm. Warm is a synonym for tepid.